Ambassador Emily Haber, Photo: Germany Embassy, Copyright Johnny Shryock

When German Ambassador Emily Haber spoke to the World Affairs Council of Atlanta last year, she worried that the EU and U.S. could see their foundational priorities drift in completely divergent directions.  

In a return (virtual) visit this year, that threat seemed to have subsided in her mind with the election of U.S. President Joe Biden.  

But for all the welcome talk about the U.S. being “back” — seeing Europe as an ally, re-entering multilateral agreements and returning to diplomacy as its default approach — Ms. Haber said the country had never left from a security standpoint.  

Watch the full conversation here: 

In fact, the Trump years may have brought some enduring lessons for Europe on the need to shore up its collective defense, she said during a council interview moderated by Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Rickey Bevington 

“That may be the lesson of the Trump administration — more responsibility, and more burden-shouldering by Europeans, thereby adding to our resilience, economy- and security-wise, and being a strategic asset whnever we confront a challenge collectively,” said Ms. Haber, a longtime diplomat and security expert.  

Europe is on the front line of potential conflict with Russia, where Ms. Haber served multiple stints in Germany’s Moscow embassy. Asked about the Nordstream 2 natural gas pipeline, which some U.S. officials worry Russia will use as leverage over Germany, she believed fears were outdated if not unfounded, thanks to tripartite agreements with Russia and Ukraine as well as new pipeline technology.  

The EU can’t ignore Russia, as much as their views may differ, she said.  

“We have to deal with Russia on a number of issues, including issues where they may be the source of the problem but where we will not be able to  solve the problem without them,” she said.  

That long view is relevant to the emerging situation in Belarus, where authorities recently grounded a Ryanair plane in order to detain a dissident journalist, a move EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and others have labeled a “hijacking.”  

Through this action, Ms. Haber believes that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who the EU sees as illegitimate due to his manipulation of elections, was sending a message to Western powers and a member of the broader Belarusian diaspora that may challenge his rule. She likened it to the 2018 poisoning of a Russian dissident in Salisbury, England. Sanctions may be necessary and right, and EU legislation to expand existing Belarus ones is being considered in light of the most recent transgression, but a quick fix is likely not imminent, she said.  

“It’s the message that we can get you anywhere, and that seems to be the backdrop,” she said. “If that’s the case let’s not exaggerate or overstate that our capacity to alter behavior by punitive measures.”  

This isn’t even the most stressful test of European unity in recent months. COVID-19 pandemic stretched the premise of solidarity on which the EU is based, especially early on, when the usually borderless Schengen area saw barriers reinstalled and countries looked inward to their citizens’ own needs rather than mounting a collective response early on.  

“That really brought us to the edge of the abyss, because the European Union is really all about helping other members when they are not able to support themselves. It revolves around the principle of solidarity. Questioning the solidarity principle by actually not doing what is expected has the potential to undermine the European rationale,” she said. 

But the EU made an about-face, restarting exports of masks and personal protective equipment, jointly approaching debt markets for the first time and passing a massive recovery package, she said.  

Even the vaccination effort suffered in Germany because Europe decided to purchase doses together rather than allowing countries to go it alone. The immunization drive lagged also because 200 million doses were exported to some 90 countries, she said, as Europe took a more globalized approach and treated the crisis as a market problem rather than a national security issue.  

“We know exactly that it’s impossible to solve national problems first and then look at the rest,” she said, pointing to Germany’s globalized economy.  

About 40 percent of Germans have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, with about 14 percent being fully vaccinated.  

Ms. Haber also addressed the issue of female leadership, noting that the true test of progress is not figurehead women leaders, but an abundance of middle managers that make the rise of female leaders inevitable. She also discussed Germany’s efforts to address climate change and how political and youth activism have raised the bar on its ambitions.  

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...