Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s deputy chancellor and economics minister, has called for Berlin to demonstrate resolve in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats to erect trade barriers and even suggested there could be “opportunities” for Europe’s largest economy if the United States starts a trade war with emerging powers.
“Germany should act with self-confidence and not be fearful or servile,” Mr. Gabriel, head of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, told Handelsblatt in an exclusive interview. “We are a highly successful, technologically-advanced export nation with many hard-working people and smart companies.”
In the wake of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, Germany should also focus on strengthening continental Europe, Mr. Gabriel said, by further developing an E.U. foreign and security policy, investing in digital infrastructure and crafting a common strategy toward China and India.
“Now is the time to strengthen Europe,” he said.
Mr. Gabriel, who will likely challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in autumn elections, criticized Mr. Trump’s threat to impose a 35-percent tariff on German automobiles imported from Mexico into the United States as counterproductive for the U.S. economy.
“Trump must simply recognize that the U.S. economy often isn’t competitive, while the German [economy] is,” Mr. Gabriel said.
The economics minister said Mr. Trump’s threats to erect barriers with Asia and Latin America would create opportunities for German exporters to move in and pick up business lost by the United States.
“If Trump starts a trade war with Asia and South America, it will open opportunities for us,” said Mr. Gabriel, one of Europe’s foremost center-left politicians.
Barely 10 percent of German exports go to the United States, Mr. Gabriel said, while 60 percent go to other countries in Europe.
“You can see the weight of our economic interests,” he said.
Britain’s exit from the European Union also creates opportunities for Germany and Europe, Mr. Gabriel said, suggesting he favored more of a two-speed European Union.
The British exit could act as a catalyst that strengthens the resolve among the euro-zone member states, Europe’s core, to increase their cooperation: “Brexit could provide the decisive impulse,” Mr. Gabriel said.
But he added that E.U. member states who haven’t joined the euro zone and aren’t interested in deeper integration should be allowed to move at a slower tempo: “That would reduce tensions in Europe and massively strengthen Europe’s core,” Mr. Gabriel said.