21st Feb 2024

Little love, as Berlin bids 'auf Wiedersehen' to Trumpism

  • Outgoing US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell (l) with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo (Photo:

He provoked lively debate about Russia, Iran, and Nato spending.

He might still clash with Germany on the Western Balkans, on which he remains a US special envoy.

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  • Former US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland (c), after testifying in impeachment hearing on alleged Ukraine blackmail (Photo: Victoria Pickering)

But Richard Grenell, the outgoing US ambassador to Berlin, might well be remembered in Europe mostly for his "Trumpian" style, which did not help an already rocky transatlantic relationship.

Grenell, a 53-year old former civil servant and media consultant, harangued German politicians on the strategic dangers of Nord Stream 2, a Russian gas pipeline to Germany.

He spotlighted alleged Iranian violations of an EU-backed nuclear non-proliferation deal.

Germany boosted its relatively tiny contribution to Nato spending on his watch.

And when a German minister once compared old revelations of US spying on Germany to Chinese espionage, Grenell took him to task on history.

The US had protected Germany and Europe from their real enemies for 75 years, Grenell noted.

"There is no moral equivalency between China and the United States and anyone suggesting it ignores history," he said at the time.

Grenell also restarted Kosovo-Serbia peace talks, which had stalled for almost two years under EU stewardship.

And he battled for his ideas on social media.

"You always wanted me to stop asking you publicly to pay your Nato obligations and calling for an end to Nord Stream 2. But these are US policies. And I work for the American people," he told one German politician in a parting shot on Twitter on Monday (25 May).

"You make a big mistake if you think the American pressure is off. You don't know Americans," Grenell added.

He did not answer EUobserver on Monday, when asked if he thought Europe would miss him.

But on other occasions, he micromanaged his press coverage.

When this website once said he had voiced support for the "far right", Grenell, one of the few openly gay VIPs in the US administration, personally emailed to say he wanted to empower "gay conservatives and non-traditional republicans" in Europe.

"I criticise [the] AfD all the time," he added, on Germany's biggest far-right party.

When EUobserver cited the Bloomberg news agency to say Grenell was pushing for a "quick deal" between Kosovo and Serbia, the US ambassador emailed again.

"I wasn't tasked with getting a quick deal. And Bloomberg wasn't in the meeting I had with Potus [the president of the United States]," Grenell told this website.

"No way, really, he does that?," an EU diplomat said, on Grenell's media outreach.

Some in Berlin were sad to see him go.

"Your deep friendship toward ... the state of Israel will always be appreciated. We will miss you and Matt [Grenell's partner]," Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel's ambassador to Germany, said on Monday.

"This [Grenell's departure] is not at all welcome news if it means that there will be no US ambassador in Berlin for the next 12 months or more," due to the upcoming US election process, Wolfgang Ischinger, Germany's former ambassador to the US, said.

"And this in the midst of multiple transatlantic crises," Ischinger added, referring to the coronavirus pandemic, foreign policy clashes, and trade wars.


Others were happy to see Grenell go, however.

"Grenexit. Germany breathes a collective sigh of relief," Noah Barkin, from The German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think-tank in Berlin, said.

"For a generation, each and every US ambassador I got to know personally - career diplomat or political appointee alike - used to leave his post as a highly respected figure and trusted friend of Germany," Andreas Nick, a senior MP in Germany's ruling party, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union, said.

"Now, someone [Grenell] leaves issuing threats as if he were representing a hostile power," Nick added.

Grenell will butt heads again with Germany if he pushes for a land-swap deal between Kosovo and Serbia, which Berlin fears could destabilise the Western Balkans.

And his aggressive style was also on show here, when he recently retweeted a US senator's threat to pull American troops from Kosovo unless it played ball.

Meanwhile, Grenell's own remarks were often retweeted by Donald Trump Jr., the son of US president Donald Trump, giving Grenell the air of a White House darling, who ought to be feared, in what some commentators have called "Trumpian diplomacy".

Grenell was from being Trump's most controversial EU envoy.

Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union in Brussels, was, like the US president, a former tycoon with a string of sexual misconduct allegations to his name, who ended up in impeachment hearings over alleged blackmail of Ukrainian politicians.

David Cornstein, Trump's ambassador to Hungary, has praised the Hungarian prime minister's authoritarian vision of an "illiberal democracy".

"He [Trump] would love to have the [illiberal] situation that Viktor Orbán has [in Hungary]," Cornstein said.


"I do not comment on the ambassador's [Grenell's] statement on Twitter," German foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said on Monday, referring to Grenell's threat to keep up US "pressure" on issues such as Nord Stream 2.

But the German and wider EU public did comment on Trumpian diplomacy when asked by US pollster The Pew Research Centre last year.

Just 39 percent of people in Germany approved of the US in general and fewer than half did so in France, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

And only 13 percent of Germans trusted Trump personally - a lower rating than those of the Chinese and Russian leaders, and far from the 86-percent approval of former US president Barack Obama.

"We are in discussion with American partners - as you know - on a great many topics. There are topics on which we speak and work together in deep transatlantic friendship," the German foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.

She spoke as US voters prepared to decide whether they wanted four more years of Trumpism in upcoming elections, with Grenell to take part in Trump's campaign team.

"There are other issues where there may be different views [between the US and Germany]. It will remain so in a long partnership," Germany's spokeswoman said.

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