German role in NATO more vital now than ‘during Cold War’, says Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday put up a spirited defence of NATO after French President Emmanuel Macron's criticism, saying Germany has a bigger interest today in ensuring the bloc stays together than even during the Cold War.

German role in NATO more vital now than 'during Cold War', says Merkel
Merkel speaking at a Bundestag general debate in Berlin on Wednesday. Photo: DPA

Days before leaders of the transatlantic alliance are due to hold a summit,Merkel said NATO has been a “bulwark for peace and freedom” over the past 70 years.

“The preservation of NATO is in our own interest, more than during the Cold War,” Merkel told parliament.

READ ALSO: Germany plans to up defence spending to over €50 billion

The German chancellor's strong defence of the bloc came after Macron said it was suffering from “brain death”.

In his interview with The Economist earlier in November, Macron blindsided his allies as he decried a lack of coordination between Europe and the US. He also lamented recent unilateral action in Syria by Turkey, a key member of the alliance.

Merkel had reacted then with uncharacteristic gusto, slapping down what she described as unnecessary “sweeping judgements”.

While not referring directly to Macron's remarks in her speech to German parliament, Merkel addressed the French leader's critique.

Turkey was a “difficult partner” in NATO, she acknowledged, but also noted that being a partner meant being able to air differences of opinion.

“I say that Turkey should stay a NATO member… because it is of strategic importance for the alliance that Turkey is part of it.”

'Europe can't defend itself'

The storm over the transatlantic partnership comes as it celebrates seven decades since its founding.

Besides the row over Macron's remarks, Trump has also repeatedly complained
about European allies' weak defence spending.

At last year's NATO summit in Brussels, the US leader even publicly berated Merkel for failing to do enough on the issue.

For her part, the German leader has not shied away from addressing growing
differences with Germany's erstwhile US mentor under a mercurial Trump.

READ ALSO: Merkel fires back at Trump: Germany makes independent decisions

Underlining Washington's changing role in playing world cop, Merkel noted that “the United States no longer automatically takes up responsibility when it's burning around us”.

Nevertheless, “Europe cannot defend itself”, she said.

It was therefore crucial to maintain the defence alliance, stressed Merkel.

To this end, Merkel pledged to keep raising Germany's defence spending, with an aim of reaching the goal of committing 2.0 percent of economic output by the early 2030s.

In a sign that Merkel's gesture may go some way towards heading off direct conflict with Trump, Robert O'Brien, national security counsellor to the US president, welcomed the pledge in an interview with Bild daily.

At the same time, he said Germany also needed to step up in global defence.

“It would be great if Germany took up its role as one of the leaders of the world,” he said.

As a leading economic power, “Germany has a duty to invest appropriately in defence for the benefit of its own defence and the defence of its alliance partners.”

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.