Germany wants Europe to form a 'counterweight' to US

The German foreign minister has said it was high time that Europe reassessed its partnership with the United States. He advocated an EU payment system independent of the US in order to save the nuclear deal with Iran.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said that Europe should form a "counterweight" to the United States whenever Washington "crosses red lines."

In a guest article for German business newspaper Handelsblatt, Maas said Germany wants a "balanced partnership" with the United States, in which it "brings its weight where the US withdraws."

"Single-handedly, we will fail in this task. The main goal of our foreign policy is therefore to build a sovereign, strong Europe," Maas wrote.

Maas' article comes amid strained relations between the US and its European allies after US President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the EU, and pulled out of a nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.

Europe has been scrambling to persuade Tehran to remain in the 2015 accord. But with European firms wary of far-reaching US financial penalties, it's proving to be a challenge.

Read moreDonald Trump's trade spats with Europe, China and NAFTA ― What you need to know

EU-US trade relationship

More than a trillion euros in trade

The European Union is the US' largest export market, accounting for about one-fifth of all US exports. Similarly, one-fifth of EU exports go to the United States. EU-US trade in goods and services was €1,069.3 billion in 2017. The EU imported €256.2 billion in goods from the US, and exported €375.8 billion.

EU-US trade relationship

EU trade surplus

The main exports and imports between the EU and US fall into the categories of machinery and vehicles, chemicals and other manufactured goods. Combined, they accounted for 89 percent of EU exports and imports with the US in 2017. In all three categories, as well as food and drink, the EU had a trade surplus. The US had a trade surplus in raw materials and energy.

EU-US trade relationship

Cars, machinery top exports

At €167 billion, machinery and vehicles were the largest EU export category to the US, accounting for 44.4 percent of goods exports. The €111.5 billion in machinery and transport equipment was the largest EU import from the US, accounting for 43.6 percent of imports.

EU-US trade relationship

Small part of trade pie

At the end of May 2018, the Trump administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on EU steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum. Steel and aluminum exports to the United States were worth €3.58 billion in 2017.

EU-US trade relationship

Retaliatory tariffs

In response, the European Union developed a list of products it may subject to retaliatory tariffs. These include typical American products like peanut butter, bourbon whiskey, Harley Davidson motorcycles, jeans and orange juice. The exports targeted by the EU are worth about €2.8 billion annually, according to EU officials.

EU-US trade relationship

Services include travel, education

For services, the EU imports amounted to €219.3 billion and exports €218 billion. The top services were in professional and management services, intellectual property, travel and education. About a third of EU-US trade consists of intra-company transfers.

EU payment system

Maas said Europe needs to set up payment systems independent of the United States if it wants to save the nuclear deal.

"That's why it is indispensable that we strengthen European autonomy by creating payment channels that are independent of the United States, a European Monetary Fund and an independent SWIFT system," Maas wrote. "Every day the deal is alive is better than the highly explosive crisis that would otherwise threaten the Middle East."

Iran called on Europe to speed up efforts to save the deal after French oil group Total formally pulled out of a major gas project on Monday.

The EU has vowed to counter Trump's renewed sanctions on Iran, including by means of a new law to shield European companies from punitive measures.

"Given the circumstances, it is of strategic importance that we tell Washington clearly: We want to work together," Maas wrote. "But we will not allow you to hurt our interests without consulting us."

ap/rt (AFP, Reuters)

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.