Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Merkel urges Trump to respect 'values'

  • Merkel with acting US leader Obama on one his previous trips to Berlin (Photo: Bundesregierung)

Germany and France have appealed to Donald Trump to respect “shared values”. They “still don’t get it”, a former EU diplomat said.

Poland has also voiced trust that Trump would respect Nato promises, but Russia is uncorking champagne.

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  • Trump's campaign was marked by racism, sexism, and nationalism (Photo: Gary Skidmore)

German chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday (9 November) offered the US president-elect “close cooperation” based on “shared values”, which she listed as being: “democracy, freedom, respect for the right and dignity of every individual, irrespective of origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation or political attitude”.

French president Francois Hollande urged Trump to “respect principles”, which he also listed: “democracy, freedoms, and the respect of every individual”.

They spoke after Trump won the US election on Tuesday in a campaign marked by racist, sexist, and nationalist rhetoric.

Hollande, who previously said Trump made him want to “retch”, said on Wednesday the US campaign had been “brutal”.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier echoed Merkel, saying: “We [the EU] should remain a stronghold of reason”.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble spoke of Trump’s “demagogic populism”.

The European criticism risked a backlash by Trump, who is known for his thin skin and his foul temper, Andras Simonyi, a scholar of transatlantic relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington, told EUobserver.

Simonyi, who used to be Hungary’s ambassador to the US, said Merkel’s statement “was written by some stupid bureaucrat, who still doesn’t get it … she was not wise to say it”.

Ulrich Speck, an academic at the Elcano Institute, a think tank in Brussels, said: “European leaders should be careful not to alienate Trump”.

He said Merkel and Hollande would be “in a beauty contest with [Russian president Vladimir] Putin”, who has endorsed Trump from day one.

Domestic consumption

Speck said Merkel’s message was an “important signal” for EU politics, however.

Steven Blockmans, a Belgian scholar at the Ceps think tank in Brussels, also said that she needed to retain the moral high ground in the run-up to German elections.

“Merkel’s message was primarily intended for domestic consumption - to portray herself as the voice of reason and defender of the rule of law, contrary to the populists of AfD”, Blockmans said.

The AfD is one of several anti-EU and anti-immigrant parties in Europe who expect to get a bump from the US result.

Populist leaders who cheered Trump on Wednesday included the AfD’s Frauke Petry in Germany, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Beppe Grillo in Italy, and, to a lesser extent, Norbert Hofer in Austria.

Hofer could become the EU’s first far-right head of state in a presidential election in December.

Grillo could come closer to taking power in Italy if prime minister Matteo Renzi loses a referendum on constitutional reform also in December.

“They said we're sexist, homophobic, demagogues, populists … We will come to power and they will ask themselves: ‘How did they do it?’,” Grillo said on Wednesday.

Le Pen and Petry will have their moment in elections in France and Germany next year.

Elmar Brok, an MEP from Merkel’s centre-right CDU party, told EUobserver at an event in Berlin on Wednesday that there was fertile ground for populism in Europe.

“It's the same [as in the US]. Brexit is the same. There are people, not educated, older, middle class people, who are afraid because of the consequences of globalisation and migration and because of terrorism”, he said.

Polish trust

Poland’s right wing, populist government also cheered Trump.

President Andrzej Duda said he trusted Trump to still send US soldiers to Poland as part of Nato’s Russia-deterrent force.

Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said on TV that he knew insiders in Trump’s camp and had a telephone line to his “inner circle”.

“We are optimistic, calm that Trump’s rhetoric, which always has to be exaggerated during election campaigns, is going in the right direction”, Waszczykowski said.

Nato head Jens Stoltenberg and Finnish president Sauli Niinisto, who met in Brussels on Wednesday, likewise voiced confidence.

Stoltenberg said he was “absolutely confident” the US would send troops to Poland.

Niinisto, whose country is not in Nato, said: “I will trust that the US keeps its word, not only to Nato, but also otherwise to the international community”.

Russian champagne

Others were worried that Trump might give Putin a free hand to rebuild Russia’s influence in eastern Europe, however.

“I think he [Putin] might have had a champagne breakfast this morning”, Brok said in Berlin.

One Russian MP did serve champagne in the Duma in Moscow on Wednesday morning. Putin was photographed toasting with Russian diplomats.

Hannes Swoboda, an Austrian left-wing MEP, told EUobserver in Berlin: “We’re on our own. Trump won't help us in Ukraine”.

Mark Galeotti, a US scholar of Russia affairs at the Institute of International Relations in Prague, said Trump’s victory meant that “Baltic states may face more political-military pressure [from Russia], although outright hostilities remain very unlikely, but the prospects for Ukraine are distinctly dim.”

He told EUobserver that the risk of a US-Russia military clash was also higher because Putin might test Trump to see how far he could go.

“If Trump does adopt a more conciliatory policy, or at least a more isolationist one, then this is likely to encourage Russian adventurism”, Galeotti said.

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