How Germany will try to deal with President Trump

Jörg Luyken
Jörg Luyken - [email protected]
How Germany will try to deal with President Trump
The Bundestag. Photo: DPA

Some of Germany's leading foreign policy experts tell The Local that, after Donald Trump becomes US President, Berlin will be more exposed in an increasingly unstable world.


Reacting to Trump’s election victory on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel was swift to offer an olive branch to the man her foreign minister described as a “hate preacher.”

Citing shared values of democracy, freedom and equality, the Chancellor said “On the basis of these values, I offer close cooperation to the future president of the United States of America, Donald Trump."

But German policy experts are unanimous in saying that Trump is bad news for Berlin.

Sylke Tempel, US expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), describes the Republican as “poison for fruitful foreign policy.”

“With Trump in the White House, a man has been elected to the most important office in the world who can’t control himself, who has no political experience, who takes criticism as personal assault, and who is clearly motivated by vengeance.”

Germany should expect Trump to be an “isolationist president who takes over way, way less responsibility for global affairs than Barack Obama," she warns.

Then there is the tricky issue of Merkel's personal relationship with Trump. The American president-elect has repeatedly attacked the German Chancellor for her refugee policies, accusing her of “ruining Germany.”

Tempel says that not engaging on Merkel’s part is not an option.

“As Chancellor she will at least have to try. There are many difficult politicians - Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan - who she has to deal with. The interesting question is: will she find common ground with him?”

'Berlin needs to step up'

For Olaf Boehnke, a freelance expert on international affairs, “with the US election results, the pressure on Germany has increased dramatically.”

Multiple crises in the world, including in Ukraine and Syria, are likely to escalate in the uncertain period after Trump takes power, he argues to The Local.

“There is a need of leadership, and if the US will not be the leader for the time being, then everybody looks to other leading nations or those with the potential,” he says.

“It is up to Merkel and to Berlin to step up at least for the European crowd and take on much more responsibility than she already has.”

But this could be difficult in a sensitive domestic political environment.

If Trump follows on a campaign pledge to reduce his country's financial commitment to NATO, Berlin would have to up its defence spending every year, a highly unpopular political decision among the German electorate, says Boehnke.

But, Europe “will not be able to hide behind the US anymore” when it comes to dealing with a more aggressive Russia, and thus Merkel will have to push a common defence “at a really fast pace”.

Ultimately though, Boehnke says Germany is not in the position to lead a European security project without the US's support, meaning Berlin needs to talk with the Trump administration and persuade him that Germany's contribution to Western security is about more than just soldiers and tanks.

“Berlin needs to get in touch as fast as possible with their counterparts in the US administration to sort out what kind of interests they have and what strategy they will follow.”

The hope is that President Trump will be a very different beast to candidate Trump, he concludes.

'Forget about TTIP'

Josef Janning from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) tells The Local that German trade will suffer most immediately from the Trump presidency.

“This result isn’t good, to put it politely,” Janning says.

Germany's natural inclination towards multilateral order-building is in opposition to Trump's belief that America is entangled in such structures, he says.

“People here sense that, with the election of Trump, the architects of the Western liberal order have turned away from their project. Who’s now there to define what the principles and purpose are of our cooperation?”

Janning expects to see a much more “US economy-minded foreign policy”, which means that Germany "can forget about" the controversial free trade deal TTIP, which the EU has been struggling to push through against grass-roots opposition .

“Forget about America’s understanding of the EU," Janning concludes too. "This could mean increased political tensions because of a trade conflict between the US and China, which would have fallout for Europe.

“Effectively this leaves the idea of multilateral trade policy to Europe alone. Trump believes that all the major trade agreements which the US has concluded all work to the disadvantage of the United States.”

With DPA


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