May 29, 2017

Positive Message from Angela Merkel

Reuters/Scanpix
German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel drinks during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017.
German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel drinks during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017.

They were just a few sentences intended for fellow pretzel-munching conservatives in a Bavarian beer tent. But Angela Merkel’s comments hit headlines across the world.

They were just a few sentences intended for fellow pretzel-munching conservatives in a Bavarian beer tent. But Angela Merkel’s comments hit headlines across the world.

“A rupture in the transatlantic relationship” and a “new world order” is how some international commentators are interpreting her declaration that Europe could no longer entirely rely on the US and the UK. The accompanying pictures of Merkel drinking a litre of German beer alongside a Bavarian brass-band seem to underscore her patriotic values — in contrast to the teetotal soda-drinking Donald Trump. So what exactly do these comments mean for German, and European, foreign policy?

First, we should notewhat Mrs Merkel does not mean: Germany is not about to turn its back on the transatlantic relationship. The chancellor is a keen Atlanticist, aware that Europe needs Washington to give NATO teeth, and that German exporters need good trade relations with the US.

In fact it’s not new for a German chancellor to stand up to Washington. There is a strain of anti-Americanism in Germany that politicians often tap into. Gerhard Schröder’s stance against the American-led invasion of Iraq proved that it could even be a vote-winner.

With just four months to go before the elections, Merkel knows this. By being firm with Donald Trump she not only looks strong; she also robs her struggling Social Democrat rival Martin Schulz of yet another electoral weapon.

Instead this was a positive message calling for a stronger European Union. Brexit and Trump may pose challenges, but they also galvanise support by showing what the alternative to European integration looks like. And with a Europhile liberal president now in Paris, Merkel hopes that the Franco-German motor is revving up again. So her comments were less about the US or UK—and much more about the EU.

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