Trump poses daunt­ing chal­lenge for Merkel

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Don­ald Trump’s vic­tory has been a shock for Amer­ica’s ma­jor part­ners around the world. But per­haps nowhere has the blow been more painful than in Ger­many, a coun­try that un­der An­gela Merkel has come to see it­self as a bastion of open­ness and tol­er­ance. On vir­tu­ally ev­ery is­sue of im­por­tance to the Ger­man chan­cel­lor, from con­fronting Rus­sian ag­gres­sion and pro­mot­ing free trade, to com­bat­ing cli­mate change and tack­ling the tide of refugees flee­ing Syria, Trump seems likely to turn Wash­ing­ton from an ally into an ad­ver­sary.

He in­voked the Ger­man chan­cel­lor’s name to in­sult his Demo­cratic op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton dur­ing the US cam­paign, call­ing her “Amer­ica’s Merkel”. And he de­scribed her de­ci­sion last year to open Ger­man bor­ders to hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants as “in­sane”. So al­though Trump’s elec­tion is be­ing seen as a re­jec­tion of the po­lit­i­cal estab­lish­ment and lib­eral demo­cratic val­ues in gen­eral, it rep­re­sents a very per­sonal blow to Merkel, Europe’s most pow­er­ful leader. It heaps more re­spon­si­bil­ity on her at a time when she is near­ing an an­nounce­ment on whether she will run for a record-ty­ing fourth term as chan­cel­lor next au­tumn. De­spite the toll that 11 years of non-stop cri­sis fight­ing has taken on her, Merkel’s aides say that Trump’s vic­tory and Bri­tain’s de­ci­sion in June to leave the Euro­pean Union have, if any­thing, re­in­forced her de­ter­mi­na­tion to con­tinue. “Given the chal­lenges we face, in Europe and be­yond, she can’t sim­ply walk off into the sun­set. That would look very bad. She has a sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said an ad­viser.

Ger­mans have been fall­ing out of love with the United States since Ge­orge W Bush in­vaded Iraq more than a dozen years ago. But the elec­tion of Barack Obama in 2008 was seen here as proof of Amer­ica’s ca­pac­ity to cor­rect its “mistakes”. Obama was hailed as the heir to John F Kennedy, who came to a di­vided Ber­lin in 1963, two years af­ter con­struc­tion of the Ber­lin Wall be­gan, and re­as­sured Ger­mans with the word “Ich bin ein Ber­liner”. Obama, who de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with Merkel in his eight years in of­fice, will make what prom­ises to be a bit­ter­sweet farewell visit to Ber­lin this week. Trump’s win her­alds a hard break in a re­la­tion­ship that grew ex­tremely close dur­ing the Cold War, be­fore wob­bling when Ger­many re­fused to go along with Bush’s Iraq war and was de­rided by his De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald Rums­feld as “old Europe”. Last week, Ger­many’s Sud­deutsche Zeitung pub­lished a car­toon of a beam­ing Trump open­ing his jacket to re­veal the mes­sage “Ich bin kein Ber­liner” (I am not a Ber­liner) plas­tered across his chest.

Provoca­tive Mes­sage

This won’t stop Merkel, a re­strained politi­cian who prefers small steps to gi­ant leaps, from try­ing to work with the brash Trump, who rode to vic­tory on the dreamy prom­ise to “Make Amer­ica Great Again”. She is a prag­ma­tist who has main­tained di­a­logue with strong­men like Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Er­do­gan through crises in Ger­many’s re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia and Turkey. But Merkel’s state­ment on Wed­nes­day, in the af­ter­math of Trump’s elec­tion, was telling. In it, she set con­di­tions for co­op­er­a­tion with Trump, a provoca­tive mes­sage from a close ally to the demo­crat­i­cally elected leader of the United States. “Ger­many and Amer­ica are con­nected by val­ues of democ­racy, free­dom and re­spect for the law and the dig­nity of man, in­de­pen­dent of ori­gin, skin color, re­li­gion, gen­der, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or po­lit­i­cal views,” she said. “I of­fer the next Pres­i­dent of the United States close co­op­er­a­tion on the ba­sis of th­ese val­ues.”

Merkel’s cab­i­net col­leagues have been far more outspoken. For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier has de­nounced Trump as a “preacher of hate”. Vice Chan­cel­lor Sig­mar Gabriel has called him the pi­o­neer of an in­ter­na­tional “au­thor­i­tar­ian and chau­vin­ist” move­ment. The Ger­man press has not pulled punches ei­ther. The cover of Der Spiegel mag­a­zine this week­end showed the head of a gri­mac­ing Trump hurtling to­wards earth like a gi­ant flam­ing as­ter­oid, above the ti­tle “The End of the World (as we know it)”. One of Merkel’s big­gest for­eign pol­icy suc­cesses as chan­cel­lor was ral­ly­ing the Euro­pean Union’s dis­parate 28 mem­ber states be­hind sanc­tions against Rus­sia in re­sponse to its in­ter­ven­tion in east­ern Ukraine. If Trump fol­lows through on his prom­ise to forge a closer re­la­tion­ship with Putin, the transat­lantic and Euro­pean front against Rus­sia would crum­ble, leav­ing her Putin pol­icy in tat­ters.

High­est Price

Merkel was also the driv­ing force in Europe be­hind the ambitious trade deal be­tween the EU and United States, known as TTIP (the Transat­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship). That agree­ment, still in the ne­go­ti­a­tion phase, seems sure to die un­der Trump, whose pro­tec­tion­ist prom­ises, should they be­come re­al­ity, would hit few coun­tries harder than Ger­many, whose eco­nomic strength de­pends heav­ily on the open­ness of the global trad­ing sys­tem. “Nowhere would a move to­wards re­na­tion­al­iza­tion be more dan­ger­ous,” for­mer Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Joschka Fis­cher wrote this week. Ger­many, he pre­dicted, would pay “the high­est eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal price” if the wave of pop­ulism led to a fur­ther weak­en­ing, or even a collapse, of the EU. Trump’s pres­i­dency will chal­lenge Ger­many on a num­ber of other fronts, from cli­mate and fis­cal pol­icy to de­fence spend­ing and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tion.

Trump has promised to do what Merkel and her vet­eran Fi­nance Min­is­ter Wolf­gang Schaeu­ble have re­sisted for years: take ad­van­tage of an ul­tra-low in­ter­est rate en­vi­ron­ment to invest vast amounts of pub­lic money in modernizing in­fra­struc­ture. It was ironic that in the same week Trump was elected, Ger­many was fi­nal­iz­ing a 2017 bud­get that is a model of fis­cal re­straint. How long Schaeu­ble will be able to stick to his cher­ished “Sch­warze Null”, or bal­anced bud­get, with Trump de­mand­ing that Europe shoul­der more re­spon­si­bil­ity for its own de­fense, is un­clear.

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