German chancellor Angela Merkel gave her strongest indication yet that Europe and the US under president Donald Trump are drifting apart, saying reliable relationships forged since the end of the second World War "are to some extent over".
Speaking at a campaign rally in a beer tent in Munich on Sunday, Dr Merkel offered a glimpse of her world view after Mr Trump's nine-day trip, during which he hectored Nato allies for not spending enough on defence, called Germany's trade surplus "very bad," and brought the US to the brink of exiting the global Paris climate accord.
Dr Merkel, who met Mr Trump during the Nato meeting in Brussels and the Group of Seven (G7) world leaders' summit in Taormina, Sicily, said Europe must now plot its own course.
“The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over – I experienced that in the last few days,” Dr Merkel told supporters in the Bavarian capital a day after the G7 meeting ended. “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.
"Of course we need to have friendly relations with the US and with the UK and with other neighbours, including Russia, " she said. Even so, "we have to fight for our own future ourselves".
Richard Haass, president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, called Dr Merkel's comments a "watershed" in a Twitter message, saying the scenario is "what US has sought to avoid" since the second World War.
Little common ground
Mr Trump spurned overtures by mostly European leaders to commit to the Paris climate treaty at the weekend G7 meeting, a development Dr Merkel called “very unsatisfactory”. After first meeting Mr Trump in Washington in March, Dr Merkel has had little success in finding common ground with her new American counterpart.
Despite Dr Merkel’s commitment to working towards Nato’s goal for each member country to spend the equivalent of 2 per cent of its economic output on defence by 2024, Mr Trump dressed down the leaders of the alliance at a summit meeting on May 25th for “not paying what they should”. He spoke shortly after Dr Merkel gave a two-minute speech lauding the alliance’s common purpose.
The German leader has hit back repeatedly as the Trump administration lambastes the country’s trade surplus with the US. On climate, meanwhile, European officials have braced for a US exit of the first global agreement that sets commitments on limiting global warming – one put together in 2015 by almost 200 countries.
Relations between Germany and the US became strained in 2002-2003 when then chancellor Gerhard Schröeder refused to support the US invasion of Iraq under president George W Bush. Dr Merkel's comments, though, signalled a broader transatlantic split.
Dr Merkel made a pitch for European unity at the Munich rally, citing election victories over nationalist movements in France and the Netherlands as evidence that European Union voters were retreating from a populist surge.
Dr Merkel's line on reliability, Europe's need to plot its own course, and her pledge to "fight" in Europe's interest drew extended applause from supporters dressed in traditional lederhosen and dirndls. Saying she'll stand up for the EU project of "peace and freedom", Dr Merkel singled out this month's victory of Emmanuel Macron over nationalist Marine Le Pen in France's presidential race.
“I wish Macron all the best for his country, that people have jobs again and that people have a future – that young people can believe in Europe again,” Merkel said. “Wherever Germany can help, Germany will help.”
The venue for Dr Merkel's comments, a beer tent festooned with blue and white bunting set up by the chancellor's Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union (CSU), revealed the German leader in campaign mode 17 weeks before elections. Seeking her fourth term, Dr Merkel (62) brandished a tankard of beer after projecting herself as a defender of global stability after almost 12 years in office.
"We thought that after meeting with the US president, she would need a pause to recover," Horst Seehofer, the Bavarian premier and chairman of the CSU, said at the rally. He feted Dr Merkel for "representing our fatherland excellently" abroad.
The praise by Mr Seehofer, who pilloried Dr Merkel throughout the country's refugee crisis for not doing enough to stem the flow of migrants, marked a turnaround. After three recent state election wins by her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she's rebounded in the polls as she aims for victory in the September 24th election.
Dr Merkel's CDU and the CSU jointly have a 13-point lead over the Social Democrats, according to an Emnid poll published on Saturday, capturing a turnaround after the German SPD under Martin Schulz had largely pulled even with the chancellor's faction in February and March. – (Bloomberg)