Cold US-German Relations Unlikely to Thaw with Blizzard
Despite high expectations on both sides for Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump’s first meeting in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 14th, 2017, the meeting was postponed due to wintery conditions associated with Storm “Stella.” Though the storm may have passed over, many commentators believe that the tenuous relationship between the two world leaders can only worsen. Prior to his election, Trump called Merkel’s refugee policy an absolute disaster, while he also backed Brexit and disavowed the European Union as an instrument of Berlin and Brussels. In response, Merkel reminded Trump of the indispensable cooperative values of democracy and equality instead of congratulating him on his victory.
Nonetheless, this is not where the differences of opinion end. While Merkel remains primarily focused on political matters, Trump has shown that his interests lie primarily in the military and economy. Regarding this, he invited Merkel to Washington not to ice over their rocky relationship, but instead to discuss Vladimir Putin and European fears of increasing Russian aggression.
Knowing that this, nevertheless, will represent a great opportunity to talk to Trump about other issues, Die Zeit reports that Merkel prepared herself to handle Trump’s evasive style. She has read old interviews with Trump, assigned her highest consultants to sift through his foreign policy, and spoken to leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada who has already met with him.
On the other hand, Merkel has also expressed interest in employing less orthodox diplomatic means of negotiating with Trump and reached out to the owners of BMW to see what her options are in the realm of trade, a language which Trump understands far better than traditional diplomacy.
However, some pundits have immediately argued that Merkel’s influence with Trump may be more limited than some would hope. Not only had the US already begun to shift away from Europe under President Obama, but Trump has also criticized the German-led EU as bureaucratic, “socialist,” and elitist.
At the same time, the US holds a trade deficit of about 69.5 billion US dollars with Germany, a reality that does not bode well with Trump’s isolationist economic philosophy of “America First.” As stated by Peter Navaro, Trump’s head economic consultant, “Every country that has a clear trade deficit with the US, must work to reduce this over time.”
Now that the meeting has been rescheduled to Friday, March 17, 2017, tensions will certainly remain high. Unlike British Prime Minister Theresa May, EU rules prevent Merkel from making a bilateral trade deal with the US, a fact which will probably leave Trump dissatisfied.
Nonetheless, Merkel hopes to make the most of the limited tools at her disposal to influence Trump in the direction of what is best for the EU, Germany, and more broadly liberal democracy. Optimism certainly still runs high for the visit as some Germans have cast this introduction as a showdown between Western-liberal values and populist nationalism, whereas Charles Kupchan, former President Obama’s foreign advisor relayed that, “This is the most important meeting of his (Trump’s) presidency.”