US President Donald Trump, with all his tirade against the European Union in general and Germany in particular during recent times, has achieved only one concrete good – a firming up of political support for Germany’s fourth term Chancellor Angela Merkel at home. Trump may not have gunned for that, but that’s looked upon in Germany as Trump’s grace on Merkel.
Trump’s attacks on Germany, a proud nation, have become routine, but they have strengthened rather than weakened the Chancellor. Whether it’s the country’s refugee policy (Merkel is “ruining Germany,” he tweeted in 2015), luxury cars (he told Playboy as long ago as 1990 that he would like to tax them more heavily), or its NATO contributions, the US president has consistently picked on Germany when he needs a foreign power to lash out at.
The latest rock was thrown when Trump tweeted his blistering tirade before NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. For the US president, Germany’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline deal with Russia was at odds with its defense budget, which he thinks is too low. He said, ‘….On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!
Once Merkel had delivered her own reaction, in the form of a history lesson and her personal history in East Germany, other German government politicians lined up to reject Trump’s criticisms. First Foreign Minister Heiko Maas vehemently rejected Trump’s description of Germany as a “captive of Russia.” Germany was one of the “guarantors of the free world,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We’re not captives – neither of Russia nor the US.”
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that Trump’s assertion that Germany gets 70 percent of its energy from Russia was “simply not true.” The actual figure, the German government said, is around 9 percent.
Merkel’s coalition partners also circled the wagons. “The accusations of the American president against Germany because of the building of Nord Stream 2 are not objective, they are immoderate,” said Rolf Mützenich, senior MP of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in a statement. “They simply follow his trade policy instincts.”
Poor rapport, firming effect
It’s no secret that Trump and Merkel have a poor personal relationship, but German political analysts don’t think she is Trump’s real target. “He sees Germany as the entry point to try to crack the European Union,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin bureau of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). “Because if you want to crack a pack, you attack the alpha animal.”
But even if Trump succeeds in weakening the EU, Janning thinks it is having the opposite effect on Merkel herself – especially in the rift between herself and those on the right of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and the domestic forces who would like to see the end of the Merkel era. “Within her own government she is closing the ranks, very clearly.
<>p When she is under obvious unfair attack from the outside, that will bring at least the mainstream together behind her.” Trump’s stark overstatements, be it on trade, on defense spending or on Russia, might play well with voters supporting the fringes of the German political spectrum, but not with Merkel’s own CDU voters – even the more conservative ones.>