Even before his inauguration, Donald Trump was a cause for concern in Europe. His tough stance on trade, and criticism of the defense alliance NATO rankled many leaders. On top of that, some worry the steady rise of populism that helped put Trump in the White House threatens Europe's longstanding Union. We sent Scott Thuman to Berlin to take the temperature at the height of Germany's election season.
Scott Thuman: Another world leader, facing yet another critical test. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not facing the strong populist challenges her European counterparts have, which kept the world carefully watching France’s elections. This country has largely stayed the course, following Merkel’s ideals of tough-fiscal love and even-tempered diplomacy. But there are concerns about the future, and Germany’s direction. And the perceived divide between Germany and the United States has some sounding the alarm.
Scott Thuman: How do you see this relationship playing out between Chancellor Merkel, and President Trump?
Josef Braml: It’s not a personal relationship, there are interests that are geometrically opposed.
Scott Thuman: Josef Braml is a political scientist who sees the potential for a major shift in the US-Germany relationship.
Josef Braml: I wasn’t optimistic before Trump was elected and believe me, since he is now at the helm I’m even more worried because he will reinforce those currents, those factors. He has been using them to get elected, he will be abusing them to get re-elected.
President Donald Trump: I believe strongly in free trade, but it also has to be fair trade.
Scott Thuman: Trump has criticized long standing policies on trade by threatening border taxes,
the European Union by supporting Brexit, and NATO, once questioning its usefulness.
Scott Thuman: Some might argue, we’re hitting the panic button unnecessarily. He’s sorting out these relationships, learning how to deal with someone like with Chancellor Merkel, for example, aren’t we just Chicken Little saying the sky is falling, but it’s not?
Josef Braml: Donald Trump is not the major problem. What worries me are the currents, the forces that brought him into power. America is in trouble for some time, before Trump. It didn’t just fall out of the blue sky. There are reasons for his election.
Scott Thuman: The relationship between Trump and Merkel got off to, by most accounts, a frosty start here at the White House. With the President publicly rebuking Germany and other NATO nations for not spending enough on defense.
President Donald Trump: Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States. These nations must pay what they owe.
Scott Thuman: But to some, like Burkhard Dregger who is a member of Merkel’s party, getting Europe to pay more towards the common defense of NATO countries wouldn’t be such such a bad thing.
Scott Thuman: Tell me something that you already like about this Trump presidency?
Burkhar Dregger: I like his way to be open, for example with regard to defense policy he is clearly saying that he’s expecting more investment of Germany and other European countries into their defense. I absolutely agree.
Scott Thuman: You like the fact that he wants more European involvement?
Burkhar Dregger: Yes, I think he has the power now to make us invest more and that we have to invest more on defense.
Scott Thuman: Merkel has pushed back at Trump, suggesting their differences are not just about spending on defense, but development aid too, saying hers is a more comprehensive approach. Meanwhile, Trump has since re-evaluated his stance on NATO.
President Donald Trump: I said it was obsolete, it is no longer obsolete.
Scott Thuman: Now Trump plans to attend the NATO summit in Brussels later this month. A smooth German-US relationship though is not just ideal, Braml says, it is crucial for fighting terror, pushing back against Russian President Vladimir Putin and stabilizing the global economy. And uncertainty about White House plans, has some now calling for Merkel to step-up into what’s often been America’s role, as the global leader.
Josef Braml: Merkel won’t be able to do that. It takes a super power to keep up the liberal world order what we can do is keep Europe together to avoid the worst. We have seen before, nationalism, we have seen the 20’s 30’s and we don’t want to go back there.
Scott Thuman: Thus Dregger says the real imperative is that these two leaders, lead together.
Burkhar Dregger: It was obvious that the two of them tried to find a way of communication, a personal level of understanding and I think this process has not come to an end yet so they’re still looking for it.
Dregger adds, this is a long-lasting relationship, forged by the assistance the US provided Germany after World War 2 and throughout the Cold War. He said they'll certainly be irritations but the partnership won't be affected by a single President, or Chancellor. Nonetheless, the strain could be an unwelcome headache to Merkel as she campaigns for upcoming elections in September.