President Donald Trump received German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House by on March 17 after spending much of 2016 bashing her, and accusing her of ruining Germany by allowing an influx of refugees from Syria. He described White House as 'people's house'. The meeting between the two leaders of the Western world's most influential countries might have erased some negative attitude towards each other.
It may be recalled here that both Frederick and Fred, grandfather and father of Donald Trump respectively are from Germany. His grandfather was kicked out from Germany in 1905 failing to join mandatory military service.
Merkel had excellent relations with former President George W. Bush of the Republican party while she had maintained same warm ties with President Barack Obama. During her 11 years at the helm of affairs of Germany, she had to deal with impulsive strongmen of Italy Silvio Berlusconi and of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. Therefore, she was prepared to deal with Trump, who is apparently making international scenario unpalatable by suggesting dismantling of the European Union in line with Vladimir Putin's views and 'obsolete' NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). The US still has been maintaining some military bases in Germany since the end of the Second World War.
Trump's bilateral discussion with Merkel concentrated on trade, immigration, NATO, EU and war in Syria, situation in Afghanistan and Ukraine and fight against Daesh (ISI). Both of them presented business leaders during discussion reflecting their focus on trade and business between the two countries. Trump was of the opinion that he is not following an isolationist policy but he believes trade should follow a fair policy. He feels the US has been treated by China and Germany very badly in dealing with trade. "It was not good for our workers." He said the US would no longer be out-negotiated on trade deals with Germany.
In response, the German Chancellor presented to Trump chief executives of BMW, Siemens, and other German companies working in the US with excellent operation employing American workers. She pointed out that Germany itself did not conclude trade deal with the US. As a member of the European Union, it delegates authority to Brussels to negotiate trade deals. It is true that balance of trade between Germany and the US is in favour of Germany. The US has become the fourth largest supplier of goods to Germany while America has turned out to be Germany's leading export market. Its exports to US stand at $125 billion in comparison with US export at $ 50 billion. On the other hand, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from Germany to the US stands at $ 255 billion while that from the US to Germany is worth $108 billion as of now. German FDI is mainly related to manufacturing sector, wholesale, finance and insurance employing 670,000 American workers.
Differences of opinion were, however, marked the talks between two leaders on immigration. Trump is not in favour of immigration that has been reflected in his comments. Immigration, according to him, is a privilege, not a right and safety of citizens must always come first. Refugees, Merkel said, need opportunities to improve their lives, in part to stabilise their countries and prevent them from sliding into civil wars. She, in fact, extolled freedom of movement as one of the greatest strengths of the European Union. German success, she added, was inextricably tied to that of the European Union. Schengen agreement in 1985 abolished many internal borders of European countries enabling passport-free movement. This writer had also the experience in visiting Luxembourg, Brussels and The Hague without passport during his stay in Germany as a Bangladeshi diplomat. Trump had spoken openly for dissolution of European Union in line with Russian President Vladimir Putin's opinion. He reflected his stand also during the visit of British Prime Minister Theresa May to the US.
Chancellor Merkel also pointed out that Germans were more hostile to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) than Americans with the election of Trump for his anti-free trade views. But now German sentiments have swung in favour of these deals.
Incidentally, Trump presently favours existence of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), a clear U-turn he made from his earlier stand. But he demanded that America's NATO allies pay back vast sums of money from past years. These countries must pay what they owe, he pointed out. Merkel said Germany had committed increasing its military spending but noted that the alliance has other vital missions like security and development in Africa. Trump tweeted from Florida on March 18 that Germany owes vast sums to NATO and the US which must be paid. While rejecting this claim, German Defense Minister Ursula Von Den Leya said there is no debt account of NATO.
President Trump, however, agreed with the German Chancellor that relations with the Russian Federation needs to be improved provided crisis in Ukraine is resolved peacefully within the framework of Minsk agreement to which Russia is a signatory. The Minsk agreement was signed on September 5 of 2014 when armed conflict between Ukraine and separatists groups of Donetsk and Lugansk region with tacit approval of the Russian Federation was at its peak.
Trump apparently sought a common ground with Angela Merkel by saying they both had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama but she smiled and said nothing. Possibly she refrained from entering Trump's political drama. In 2013, Merkel's cell phone was under surveillance by the National Security Intelligence of the US. Obama had instructed stopping surveillance of leaders of close allies of the US. Obama was not aware of surveillance and had offered apology to the French President and the German Chancellor as well. Now both Directors of FBI and National Security Intelligence reported that allegation by Trump of wiretapping his tower in New York is baseless
It appears from discussions and press briefing that Merkel avoided becoming an adversary of Trump because Germany has become the strongest ally in Europe based on close and vital relationship. On the other hand, Trump did not bring up sharp criticism of Merkel he used to make during election campaign but differences of opinion on many issues exist. Initially Donald Trump did not shake hand but after the press briefing, shook hands with her.
The writer is a retired diplomat from Bangladesh. firstname.lastname@example.org