Europe’s Post-American Future

So, Donald, about this climate deal... Picture source: Reuters

Source: Reuters

Chancellor Angela Merkel did not mention President Donald Trump or the United States by name, but her message was clear — the contentious G7 meeting in Italy has shown that Germany cannot depend on its most important ally anymore.

“The times in which we can fully rely on others are partially coming to an end, I’ve experienced that in the past few days,” Ms. Merkel told supporters at a campaign event in a packed beer tent in Munich on Sunday. “That’s why I can only say – we Europeans have to take our fate into our own hands.”

The chancellor’s speech, which was met with long applause from the 2,000-strong audience in Munich, echoed past statements she has made since Mr. Trump was elected US president. Back in January, Ms. Merkel said Europe’s fate is in its own hands, after the new US president criticized Germany, NATO and the European Union in an interview with German tabloid Bild Zeitung and the Times of London.

In her speech on Sunday, the chancellor emphasized the continued importance of strong ties with the United States as well as Britain, which is in the process of exiting the European Union. But Ms. Merkel’s repeated calls for Europe to strike a more independent course signals a significant readjustment in German thinking. Ms. Merkel leads the center-right Christian Democratic Union, historically the most pro-American political party in post-war Germany. The fact that she is calling for Europe to end its reliance on others, a not-so-subtle reference to the United States, points to a deepening rift with Washington.

The chancellor said the other G7 members were united “six to one” against Washington in their commitment to the climate deal’s goals.

Ms. Merkel comments come after several days of difficult talks with her American counterpart. In a speech in Brussels on Thursday, President Trump slammed the European allies for not spending enough on defense and, contrary to expectations, failed to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense clause.

The diplomatic row between European leaders and the US administration did not stop there. Mr. Trump also refused to endorse a communiqué at the G7 meeting in Italy that would have reaffirmed the commitment of the leading industrialized nations to the Paris climate agreement.

Ms. Merkel was blunt in her assessment of G7 meeting on Saturday. The discussions on climate change were “very unsatisfying,” she said, and there was no indication of whether the United States would remain in the agreement or not. Mr. Trump fired off a tweet after the talks in which he vowed to make his final decision about the climate deal in the coming week.

The chancellor said the other G7 members were united “six to one” against Washington in their commitment to the climate deal’s goals. Ms. Merkel stressed the historic significance of the deal. The Paris agreement is not just any agreement, she said, it will play a central role in shaping globalization.

On the issue of trade, on the other hand, Germany and the other G7 members made some progress with Mr. Trump. The US president endorsed a statement in which the G7 vowed to fight protectionism as well as unfair trade practices. In previous meetings, Trump administration officials such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have refused to endorse official statements condemning protectionism.

While it may have marked some progress, it wasn’t enough for the business community. Dieter Kempf of the German industry association BDI derided the “minimal consensus” on protectionism is “disappointing.” In a statement, he too said that Europe needs to “take more global responsibility” for managing the rules of global trade.

The German government, which leads the G20 this year, is trying to gradually convince the Trump administration to moderate its positions and keep the United States in the global fold on trade and climate change. Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trump will meet for another round of face-to-face talks in July, when the US president attends the G20 summit in Hamburg. Mr. Kempf clearly welcomes those efforts: Even if Mr. Trump may be difficult to work with, the United States would remain a “decisive” partner and “enormously important” for Europe, he said.


Spencer Kimball is an editor with Handelsblatt Global based in the United States. Regina Krieger is Handelsblatt’s Italy correspondent. Thomas Sigmund is the bureau chief in Berlin, where he directs political coverage. Christopher Cermak of Handelsblatt Global contributed to this story. To contact the authors: s.kimball@extern.handelsblatt.com, krieger@handelsblatt.com, sigmund@handelsblatt.com