President Trump’s speech is being considered as a “declaration of war” by the German press.
Following yesterday’s openly confrontational, deliberately protectionist presidential address by president Trump, which in various circles has been dubbed the “American carnage” speech for obvious reasons, some of Obama’s closest foreign friends are scrambling to find a role in a world that has drastically changed in less than 24 hours.
One of them is the foreign leader whom Obama spoke to last before vacating the White House, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who vowed on Saturday to seek compromises on issues like trade and military spending with Trump, adding she would work on preserving the important relationship between Europe and the United States.
“He made his convictions clear in his inauguration speech,” Merkel said in remarks broadcast live, a day after Trump vowed to put ‘America first’. Speaking at a news conference in the south-western town of Schoental, Merkel – and finding herself in a world where many of her “established” friends have been swept away by the tide of “populist anger” – suddenly struck a more conciliatory tone toward Trump than Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who on Friday said Germany should prepare for a rough ride under the new U.S. president.
“I say two things with regards to this (speech): first, I believe firmly that it is best for all of us if we work together based on rules, common values and joint action in the international economic system, in the international trade system, and make our contributions to the military alliances,” Merkel said.
Judging by Trump’s fiery sermon, he disagrees. “And second, the trans-Atlantic relationship will not be less important in the coming years than it was in past years. And I will work on that. Even when there are different opinions, compromises and solutions can be best found when we exchange ideas with respect,” added Merkel.
The conservative German leader, who is seeking a fourth term and enjoyed a close relationship with former president Barack Obama, is seen by liberals across the Atlantic as a voice of reason that counterbalances rising populist parties in Europe. That voice, however, has rising problems at home, where her approval rating has tumbled over the past year due to her immigration policies, where “radical” views such as those espoused by Trump are gaining traction.
As Reuters notes, relations with the United States, Germany’s biggest trading partner, are likely to be a hot topic in electioneering in coming months leading to a general election in September. And in the aftermath of the Trump speech, which defined Trump’s “negotiating baseline”, Merkel will have no choice but admit weakness in accepting compromises with a man who has criticized her decision in 2015 to throw open Germany’s borders to asylum seekers fleeing wars and conflicts, and has said he believes other countries will leave the EU after Britain and that the NATO military alliance was obsolete.
The German economic press is on Merkel’s side; the bigger question for Merkel is whether the German people will side with her in the aftermath of this “war” by Trump. Will they distance themselves from the “American populist”, or whether the counterattack against the establishment will resonate further, leading to even more pain for Merkel in the upcoming polls?