We anticipated a massive geopolitical thriller at the latest NATO and G7 summits, but what we received instead was a trivial soap opera. At the end of those events, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel went as far as to announce that Berlin no longer considers the United States under President Trump a leading world power, as it was reported by Der Spiegel.
Summing up the results of the above mentioned summits, after an number of unsuccessful attempts to find common grounds with Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the times when Germany could rely completely on others have come to an end, while urging the Europeans to take their fate into their own hand. In fact, her course of actions clearly resembled one’s attempt to file for a divorce, nevertheless Merkel decided to formulate her position in words. The problem is not just in Trump’s inability to understand the aspirations of the sitting German Chancellor, but her ideas about the place that Europe should be occupying in the global politics of the 21st century as well.
As it follows from the Rheinische Post, Merkel, who was in love with America ideals all through her youth, has now announced the end of predictable relations between the US and Europe. The words she uttered are particularly noteworthy due to the fact that the German Chancellor is known for the rigid control she exercises over her words even in a beer tent, so those who know her well regard the above mentioned statements as the end of her captivation with the so-called “Transatlantic romance”.
But those who gathered to attend the Christlich-Soziale Union assembly in Munich met Merkel’s statement with a storm of applause since everyone knew that she was talking about the need to terminate the excessively snobbish control that the US established over Germany. After this statement German bloggers have adopted a new term in their political pieces – fusstritt – which can be translated from German as a kick from the back that intrusive guests are getting when they’ve overstayed their welcome.
The fact that Germany’s Chancellor lost patience with Trump so quickly was taken with a great deal of attention across the world. Many European commentators consider this to be the end of the Transatlantic alliance. Opponents of Trump in the United States say that he is to be blamed for this change, while his supporters are convinced in the alleged “stupidity” of Angela Merkel.
The relations between Trump and the Merkel started off on the wrong foot from the very beginning. The general attitude of the leading German political figures towards Trump can be judged by the statements they were making immediately after the announcement of the US presidential election results. For instance, German President Joachim Gauck called Trump an unpredictable politician and admitted that Berlin didn’t know what to expect from him. Former German Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described Trump as a “preacher of hatred,” who, along with Brexit supporters and German right wing fanatics is “exploiting human fears for political purposes.” In turn, the Bundestag announced that the day when Barack Obama would be missed as the head of the United States wouldn’t get us waiting for long All these evaluations are not surprising, since Germany’s political circles were adjusted to the Clinton-Bush way of running affairs and failed to promptly adjust their act to the figure of Donald Trump.
In turn, Trump described Merkel’s decision of allowing some 890 thousand refugees into Germany as a “catastrophic mistake”. The European Union as a hole was dismissed by the 45th US President as Berlin’s appendage. He has gone as far as to threaten BMW with customs duties if the company is going to resist the idea of building a plant in Mexico.
According to the official representative of the White House, Sean Spicer, the head of the American state, Donald Trump described his relations with German Chancellor as “unbelievable.”
Last March, when Merkel was visiting the United States, the leaders of the two countries failed to reach an understanding on such issues as illegal immigration and NATO’s defense spendings. The demand of the US president to raise defense spending up to 2% of GDP was met with extreme criticism, as Germany already increased its military spendings back in 2016 by 2 billion euros up to the total of 37 billion euros a year, which allows it to address all the security concerns it may face. However, this amounts to just 1.2% of German GDP, while the fact that Trump is increasing American military spending even more serves as a source of major irritation for European states. German is not going to get engaged in all sorts of military adventures all across the world, that is why it believes that it is not bound to spend so much of its budget on arms.
As a result, Trump has even refused to shake hands with his German lady guest during Merkel’s visit to the US. He did it initially at the stairs of the White House, but then on a traditional shoot when leaders are sitting by each other’s side, Trump ignored the requests of photographers to shake hands again with the Chancellor. Merkel cautiously turned to Trump saying: “They want us to shake hands.” But Trump pretended that he did not hear those words.
If you take a look at the trademark overly energetic handshakes of US President, that have already become the subject of jokes on the Internet, you would notice that something is wrong with the US-German relations. The sitting US president has a habit of jerking the person who he greets so hard that sometimes people lose their balance. The most resonant case was his way of greeting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his visit to the White House. The 18 seconds hand shake resulted in Abe’s face showing signs of physical suffering.
There has been no similar crisis in transatlantic relations ever since 1945. As it’s been noted by Cliff Kapchan of the Eurasian Analytical Group, Trump creates preconditions for the biggest clash with Europe since World War II, and as a nuclear deal with Iran begins to crumble, it may as well turn out that Europe will not be on the same side with the US on the matter.
However, as political analysts are arguing about the possible consequences of the “divorce case”, Merkel received a brilliant opportunity to show off her political skills and score points both in the German and in the pan-European fields. This is already evident from her turbulent alliance with Emmanuel Macron, who immediately picked up the game and offered “military cooperation to strengthen the European defensive initiative.” According to analysts, this should mean an increase in the defense capabilities of both Berlin and Paris outside the NATO block, where the US is in command.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”