Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars

  • Merkel spoke at the Munich Security Conference, an international congress in Germany (Photo: MSC / Kuhlmann)

Russia could be a Cold War-type "partner" for Europe, German leader Angela Merkel has said.

But US policy on Iran was "depressing" and its claims about German cars were "scary", she added in a speech at the Munich Security Conference, an international congress in Germany, on Saturday (16 February).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Mike Pence linked EU support of Iran nuclear arms accord to antisemitism in his Munich speech (Photo: securityconference.de)

Russia had "illegaly" annexed Crimea, "attacked" eastern Ukraine, and "violated" a ban on short-range nuclear missiles, Merkel said.

The EU ought to consider extra sanctions on Moscow over its recent naval aggression against Ukraine, she added.

But there was hope of returning to better times via diplomacy, she also said.

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we certainly had the hope ... that we could come to a better cooperation," Merkel said.

"Today, in 2019, that seems like a long time ago ... [but] in a few years, it could look very different again," she said.

There was also nothing wrong in Germany's plan to build a new gas pipeline to Russia, called Nord Stream 2, she noted.

"If we got Russian gas already in the Cold War ... and the old German Federal Republic introduced Russian gas on a large scale - then I don't know why times today should be so much worse that we cannot say: Russia remains a partner," Merkel said, referring to the former West Germany.

The chancellor spoke as EU foreign ministers prepared to add names to a Russia blacklist on Monday over its naval skirmish against Ukraine in November.

She has long supported EU and US sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

But she has also defended Nord Stream 2 despite US and wider warnings that it posed a strategic threat to European energy security.

US rift

Merkel spoke amid an EU rift with US president Donald Trump on Iran and on transatlantic trade.

Trump, last year, walked out of an EU-backed nuclear arms control pact with Iran and has threatened European firms with sanctions if they do business there.

He has also imposed tariffs on EU products, including German cars, which his administration described as posing a risk to American "security".

"We have to be careful about this split [on Iran], which is very depressing," Merkel said in Munich.

"Look: We [Germany] are proud of our cars, and we ought to be," she added on the tariffs dispute.

"These cars are also built in the United States of America. South Carolina has the largest BMW plant - not in Bavaria [a German region], South Carolina [a US state]," Merkel noted, referring to a German car firm.

She mocked US justifications of the tariff regime.

"If these cars, which are no less threatening by the fact that they are built in South Carolina than by being built in Bavaria, are suddenly a threat to the national security of the United States of America, that scares us," she said.

The German leader made an impassioned appeal for a return to normal US ties.

"We have to fight for Europe. We have to fight for multilateralism," she said.

Her views were echoed by a senior EU official and a former US one at the Munich event.

"We want to believe it [the EU-US relationship] will be fine again later because we have no alternative," Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini, told US newspaper The New York Times there.

"The Europeans are holding their breath and thinking that it's maybe only two more years," Victoria Nuland, a former US diplomat, said, referring to Trump's remaining time in office.

'Bully and bully-er'

But the Western split may be deeper than Trump, according to Norbert Roettgen, an MP from Merkel's centre-right CDU party who chairs the German parliament's foreign affairs committee.

"In the post-Trump era, there is no return to the pre-Trump era ... The status quo was that Europe's security was guaranteed by the United States. That won't happen again," he said.

For his part, Mike Pence, the US vice-president, urged the EU to fall in line on Iran in a speech shortly after Merkel's one in Munich on Saturday.

He also insinuated that EU support for the Iran arms deal was linked to antisemitism.

Europe should react by drawing a line in the sand on Trump's "bullying", Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif said at the German congress.

"If the United States were to come in the course of their fight with China and told Europe to stop dealing with China. What would you do?", he said.

"Whatever you want to do then, do now, in order to prevent that eventuality. Because a bully will get bully-er if you succumb," Zarif said.

Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all

The visit of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to the White House on Wednesday showed that the current rift in transatlantic relations is deepening by the day.

Navalny protests sharpen EU sanctions talks

Street violence in Russia redoubled calls for new sanctions when foreign ministers meet on Monday, after eight EU states earlier proposed asset-freezes and visa-bans.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

EU and Cuba appeal for Biden to open up

The EU is coaxing US president Joe Biden to open up to Cuba amid its worst economic crisis in decades, but foreign money risks feeding the regime's "feared" rule.

News in Brief

  1. Putin holds out olive branch to Europe
  2. US snatched Russian anti-air system from Libya warlord
  3. UK to extradite alleged trafficker to EU despite Brexit
  4. EU puts trust in Boeing 737s after post-crash ban
  5. EU animal-export trade under harsh spotlight
  6. City of London wants to set rules for EU
  7. MEPs want 2030 targets to reduce consumption footprint
  8. Coronavirus cases worldwide pass 100m

Opinion

Why Russia politics threaten European security

Russia could expand hostile operations, such as poisonings, including beyond its borders, if it feels an "existential" threat and there is no European pushback.

Analysis

Ten years on from Tahrir: EU's massive missed opportunity

Investing in the Arab world, in a smart way, is also investing in the European Union's future itself. Let's hope that the disasters of the last decade help to shape the neighbourhood policy of the next 10 years.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. Poland imposes anti-abortion law amid EU concern
  2. The EU's vaccine strategy - the key points
  3. EU-AstraZeneca row flares up after vaccines shortfall
  4. First Covid, now McKinsey - how austerity hit EU healthcare
  5. Frontex suspends operations in Hungary
  6. Cyprus: a heavy caseload for new EU prosecutors office
  7. MEPs: Portugal 'risks undermining' trust in EU prosecutor
  8. EU to control vaccine exports in row over delays

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us