Chancellor Angela Merkel’s attempts to engage President Donald Trump just got harder.
Trump lavished praise on the UK and France at the weekend “for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military,” after they joined the US in hitting Syrian targets.
All Merkel earned was US criticism for not taking part. “Germany should have joined this P3 group, too,” Richard Grenell, the US nominee to be the next ambassador to Germany, wrote in a tweet in Washington.
The US disregard for Germany’s postwar aversion to using military force adds to a sense in Berlin of being sidelined by the Trump administration at a time when global challenges are multiplying.
The cooling ties are both a personal snub to Merkel, the longest-serving leader of the Group of Seven and the European Union, and economically alarming, with the threat of US trade tariffs hanging over the EU, and Germany especially.
Where Merkel was feted by President Barack Obama, the Chancellery in Berlin now struggles to even make contact with the White House.
A key conduit via Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster closed with his departure.
Merkel’s cold shoulder contrasts with Trump’s attitude to French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he has invited to Washington next week for a state visit.
Merkel’s team is still trying to finalise the chancellor’s visit to the White House later that same week. The US tried to shame Merkel’s government into helping in Syria, arguing that Germany of all nations should be appalled by the use of chemical weapons on civilians, according to a US official who asked not to be named discussing strategy.
The French did not hesitate for a moment in supporting the US, and Macron was superb, said the official. Macron and Trump have a great relationship, the official added.
Merkel’s stance on military action confirmed the negative view of Germany already held by Trump and his team, said Jan Techau, director of the Europe Program at the German Marshal Fund in Berlin.
“The German chancellor stands for rationality and thoughtfulness: two characteristics which do not impress Trump,” Techau said.
“Merkel knows very well that she needs the US president, but with her style it will be rather difficult to get closer to him and bridge the gap which exists.”
There was a time when it looked like the German chancellor could win over Trump. Soon after her first visit to the Trump White House, in March 2017, she invited the president’s daughter Ivanka to Berlin for a conference on women in business, calculating that she might gain access to Trump by winning the confidence of his daughter.
More than a year and multiple Trump tweets critical of Germany later, Merkel realises that her charm offensive has failed. She is left out of the president’s small circle of favoured leaders. Such is the sense of frustration in Berlin that one senior German official quipped perhaps the chancellor should take up golf to get closer to Trump.
The personal dynamics matter more than ever as Trump has given the European Union a May 1 deadline to come up with proposals to avert the imposition of tariffs on aluminum and steel.
That common threat will be the focus of Macron’s trip to Berlin this week as he and Merkel coordinate a joint approach to Trump on trade, a French government official said. While the EU negotiates on trade matters, Germany’s main goal is to eliminate the deadline and start a broader trade discussion with the US. Merkel will push her point with Trump in Washington even though she realises that her visit will be overshadowed by Macron’s.
Merkel and Trump may be able to find common ground on countering China, Peter Beyer, the German government’s new coordinator for transatlantic relations, said. Transatlantic ties “remain one of our cornerstones, one of the main pillars” for Germany, though relations are “obviously very demanding” now, he said.