DW: In her yearly meet-the-press session before her summer vacation, Angela Merkel put forward the European Union as an example of cooperation and multilateralism. While reaffirming the centrality of Germany’s trans-Atlantic relations with the US, she acknowledged that US President Donald Trump had put the two country’s traditional friendship “under pressure.”
When asked whether she agreed with Trump that the US and the EU were “foes,” the chancellor replied, “I’m not going to adopt that choice of words.”
When asked why Trump seems to have developed an antipathy toward Germany, Merkel said that she “hadn’t done any research into the root causes” but surmised that it may have to do with Germany’s economic might.
She said that she has tried to argue against Trump’s accusations that Germany was maintaining a skewed balance of trade with the US with arguments, for instance, that the trade balance actually favored the US when services were included.
But she admitted Trump wasn’t always persuaded.
While avoiding confrontational language, Merkel sketched out a vision of a multilateral Europe ready to emancipate itself somewhat on the US and assume a greater role globally.
Merkel said that events of the past months had “confirmed” the truth her statement from May 2017 that “the days when we could completely rely on the US are in part over.” And she added that Europe’s geography made it predestined to exert greater influence.
“It’s legitimate for Europe to find a role of its own in the world,” Merkel told journalists. “We have a number of the world’s conflicts directly on our doorstep. So Europe needs to play a greater role in resolving conflict.”
Amidst increasing conflicts between the US and the EU and other parts of the world over trade, Merkel acknowledged that the situation was “serious.” And she cited recent history as an alternative model to Trumpian protectionism.
“The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 was only overcome through multi-national action, for instance, by the G20,” Merkel said. “China also made a big contribution. This path led us out of an extremely complicated situation.”
With regard to possible US tariffs on foreign automobiles, which could potentially hurt German car makers, Merkel stressed the international character of the industry, pointing out that BMW’s largest factory was located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She also took aim American protectionism.
“The possible tariffs violate the rules of the World Trade Organization and endanger the prosperity of many people around the world,” Merkel said.
She said that Europe was united behind EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who travels to the US next week for trade talks next week. She said that Europeans were prepared to impose retaliatory tariffs if necessary but that this was “the worst solution.”
Although questions about Donald Trump and European-American relations set the tone for the session, Merkel also had the opportunity to address other issues, including the conflict over migrants that threatened to bring down her government earlier this month.
Merkel had some choice words when asked about her interior minister Horst Seehofer, who initiated that conflict.
“I’m responsible for ensuring that the government is able to function,” Merkel said. “We found a joint path forward. The sine qua non is that ministers recognize the chancellor’s responsibility for determining policies. If that’s not the case, cooperation in a government would be impossible.”
Merkel also said that there had been a certain “erosion of language” and called for a change in tone in German political culture.
“I try to pay attention to my language and describe things as precisely as possible,” Merkel told reporters, saying she aimed to combat the trend toward “squalidness” in political discourse.
That remark was pointed not only at Seehofer but also the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany and Trump himself.
Merkel’s performance was a reassertion of her own particular brand of low-key but thus far indefeasible authority. Despite weeks of speculation that her reign might be coming to an end or that she no longer had the energy for the job, the chancellor has survived and seems little worse the wear for the acrimony.
She will now have a chance to recharge her batteries for a bit, before the battles at home and abroad resume.