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ANGELA MERKEL

Trump calls Germany ‘delinquent’ as divide with Merkel deepens over US troop pullout

In pulling 12,000 US troops from Germany, President Donald Trump is laying bare what has long been clear -- there is no love lost between him and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump calls Germany 'delinquent' as divide with Merkel deepens over US troop pullout
Merkel and Trump at a NATO summit in December 2019. Photo: DPA

Trump has clashed with plenty of US allies but he has appeared to have special enmity for Merkel, whose liberal, technocratic approach on issues from the coronavirus to immigration is at stark odds with the New York mogul's in-your-face populism.

After the Pentagon made the cuts official, Trump said he was acting because Germany had failed to meet the NATO goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense — although Italy and Belgium, which will take some of the US troops, spend even less.

READ ALSO: US to pull troops out of Germany

“Germany is delinquent. They haven't paid their fees,” Trump told reporters.

“The United States has been taken advantage of on trade and on military and on everything else for many years, and I'm here and I've been straightening it out.”

Trump, himself of German ancestry, has long accused NATO's second largest economy of unfairly enjoying US protection while promoting cars and other exports.

Snub on summit

Trump first spoke of removing troops in June after Merkel, a scientist by training who has acted aggressively to stop COVID-19, rejected on health grounds Trump's plan to convene the Group of Seven leaders in Washington.

Trump had hoped to showcase a return to normal life ahead of November 3rd elections, in which he faces a tough challenge from Democrat Joe Biden.

Trump instead has mulled a wider summit that includes Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was kicked out over the takeover of Crimea.

Not always photographed in bad spirits: Merkel and Trump at a G7 meeting in 2019. Photo: DPA

Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the troop withdrawal “an affront to one of our closest allies” that would benefit Russia, which according to US intelligence intervened in the 2016 election to favor Trump.

“Champagne must be flowing freely this evening at the Kremlin,” Menendez said.

But the Trump administration has also targeted Germany over its own relationship with Russia, earlier this month opening the way for sanctions over their Nord Stream 2 gas project.

No patience for Trump

Trump's 2016 election shocked US allies but most tried to deal with him. Japanese, British and French leaders all flattered Trump with invitations, even if French President Emmanuel Macron was also vocal on disagreements over issues ranging from climate change to Iran.

Merkel from the start did little to hide her disdain for Trump.

Several months after Trump took office, Merkel made waves when she said that the United States under Trump along with Britain, which voted to leave the EU, were no longer reliable partners and that Europe should “take its fate into its own hands.”

Trump in turn shattered norms of polite behavior between allies. In 2018, he wrote on Twitter that Germans were “turning against their leadership” over the “big mistake” on welcoming millions of migrants.

Trump has frequently clashed with powerful women, taking sharply personal tones with domestic rivals including Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.

Sudha David-Wilp, a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said that while gender could be a factor, Merkel had also been “joined at the hip” with Trump's predecessor Barack Obama toward the end of his presidency.

For Obama, “Germany was seen as the indispensable partner, especially in light of Brexit,” David-Wilp said.

“So I also think President Trump of course was probably wary of Angela Merkel and the other way around,” she added.

And in personality, “President Trump and Chancellor Merkel are diametrically opposite,” she said.

A recently published Gallup survey found that only 12 percent of Germans approved of how the United States exercises leadership.

READ ALSO: Germany rated world's most admired country

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, a research group based in Bulgaria, told a June conference at the Brookings Institution that he felt a shift in Germany which was “once the most pro-Atlantic country.”

But Obama, while personally popular, also had disagreements with Germany, which he had pressed to show more magnanimity toward the rest of Europe including debt-ravaged Greece.

“I do believe people are going to make a mistake if they believe that simply because Biden is back, Europe is back in its relations with the United States,” Krastev said.

By Shaun Tandon

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POLITICS

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”.

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