Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and German election: What prompted Angela Merkel’s blunt Munich speech

Speaking in Munich on Sunday, after a Group of Seven summit in Sicily and a NATO meeting in Brussels - both dominated by tensions with Trump - Merkel spoke with surprising frankness. "The times when we could fully count on others are over to a certain extent," Merkel said.

By: Reuters | Berlin | Updated: May 30, 2017 12:53 pm
Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel speaks during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017. (Source: REUTERS)

For German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who often pulls her rhetorical punches, her weekend message signalling a shift in the post-war order was uncharacteristically blunt. But growing frustration with US President Donald Trump, a determination to reform Europe with France’s incoming leader and political considerations closer to home convinced Merkel to take a stand, senior German and European officials said.

Speaking in a packed beer tent in Munich on Sunday, after a Group of Seven summit in Sicily and a NATO meeting in Brussels – both dominated by tensions with Trump – Merkel spoke with surprising frankness. “The times when we could fully count on others are over to a certain extent. I have experienced this in the last few days,” Merkel said.

“We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands, of course in friendship with the United States, in friendship with Great Britain, with other neighbours wherever possible, also with Russia,” she continued.

“But we must know that we need to fight for our future ourselves, as Europeans, for our destiny.” The fact that Merkel reiterated many of her points on Monday showed it was no accident.

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel and head of Christian Social Union (CSU) Horst Seehofer during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017. (Source: REUTERS)

Below are some of the factors which may have prompted Merkel to make her remarks. They are based on conversations with German and European officials, who declined to be named.

LOOMING ELECTION

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel toasts during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017. (Source: REUTERS)

Merkel’s conservatives have built up a comfortable double-digit lead over their main rivals, the Social Democrats (SPD), in opinion polls ahead of a German election on September 24. But there are increasing signs that her opponents could be tempted to run an anti-Trump campaign that paints Merkel as being too soft on the president.

The SPD have made clear they will resist pressure from Trump for Germany to ramp up defence spending, another issue that resonates well with German voters. Merkel has supported higher spending despite the political risks.

By making clear that Germany may have to distance itself from Trump, she is protecting her domestic flank and reframing the defence spending issue: no longer is it about fulfilling Trump’s wishes, but about building a European defence capacity independent of the United States.

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections German Chancellor Angela Merkel lifts a glass of beer during an election campaign of her Christian Democratic Union, CDU, and the Christian Social Union, CSU, in Munich, southern Germany, May 28, 2017. (Source: AP)

Merkel hosts a G20 summit in Hamburg in early July. Until now, her approach has been to try to shepherd the Trump administration towards a consensus on major issues like free trade, climate change and migration. But the G7 summit showed that this strategy may not work.

By shifting rhetoric now, she is effectively acknowledging that she can’t guarantee a positive outcome in Hamburg, and by singling out America, reduces the risk of being blamed for a G20 failure two months before the German vote.

EMANNUEL MACRON

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections French President Emmanuel Macron, left, speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they attend a round table meeting of G7 leaders and Outreach partners in Taormina, Italy, Saturday, May 27, 2017. (Source: AP)

Merkel would not have made her remarks before Emmanuel Macron’s victory in the French election earlier this month, German officials said. A like-minded pro-European and multilateralist, Macron gives Merkel a reliable partner with whom she can move forward in Europe on issues like defence and security cooperation, migration and euro zone reform.

German officials described the dynamic between the two at the G7 summit as excellent. Merkel is also signalling to conservatives in her party who are deeply sceptical about some of Macron’s bolder ideas for the euro zone that they must be prepared to compromise.

“She is using the Trump moment to articulate a more pro-European policy,” one German official said. “She is testing the waters for a more forthcoming policy towards France.” Her message was also directed at Britain. Berlin fears the British government still has unrealistic expectations about Brexit.

FRUSTRATION WITH TRUMP

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech during an election campaign of her Christian Democratic Union, CDU, and the Christian Social Union, CSU, in Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, May 28, 2017. (Source: AP)

Merkel’s message in Munich was the product of rising frustration with Trump, whose first visit to Europe was deeply disturbing to the Germans, according to several officials. The frustrations began in Brussels when Trump renewed his attack on Germany’s trade surplus and car exports in a private meeting with EU officials. They grew at NATO when Trump repeated statements about members of the alliance owing vast amounts of money. His failure to voice clear support for NATO’s mutual defence doctrine, Article 5, and to evoke Russia as NATO’s prime threat also irked Berlin and other allies.

Angela Merkel, Merkel speech, Donald Trump, Emannuel Macron, German Elections Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi (C) gestures to US President Donald Trump as German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) looks on at the G7 Summit expanded session in Taormina, Sicily, Italy May 27, 2017. (Source: REUTERS)

At the G7 summit, the six other nations were at odds with Trump on climate change and migration. Beyond policy issues, his shoving of the Montenegrin prime minister and macho handshakes with Macron deepened the scepticism. “Trump may have listened, but what the trip showed is that he may not be capable of learning,” a second German official said. Merkel described the climate discussion in Sicily as “very dissatisfying”.

Trump’s refusal to give allies any indication of whether he would stay in the Paris climate agreement left a bad taste. As he left Sicily, he sent a tweet saying he would make a decision on the Paris accord this week. Merkel’s speech in Munich could be seen as a reminder to Trump that the decision will have real implications for his relationship with Berlin and other partners, officials said.

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  1. D
    deendayal lulla
    May 30, 2017 at 8:12 pm
    Is Merkel hinting that Europe should disassociate with NATO? Europe is strong in technology,and France,Italy,and Sweden among others make submarines,warships,fighter planes and helicopters. Europe also sends satellites in space. The US can no longer play the bogey of Russia,for Europe's ociation with NATO.
    Reply
    1. S
      satis
      May 30, 2017 at 3:56 pm
      Germans have been selfish and sucking the rest of Europe dry while making US pay for its defence. Everybody is now waking up to the fact that the Germans have made them suckers. Also, the disaster called migration is now biting Merkel
      Reply
      1. S
        shashiendra
        May 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm
        A prophet by the name of Baba Venga had predicted in the 1990s that Europe will fall to Islam with a caliphate in Rome. The progress of the west while dea with Islam appears to go in a self destructive direction.
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        1. C
          cg
          May 30, 2017 at 2:24 pm
          I think Merkel is in election mode, and she is talking to her cons uents. I do not think there is much to talk about it. Russians will be very happy if Germany gets out of the NATO. The current situation is evaluated on two counts. The majority of the NATO countries not paying their share of 2 on the GDP and Germany is one of them.and she is upset as it been told in public by Trump. Trump is blunt, and he is not their to protect anybody except America Trump will save 4 they are spending on NATO if European Countries take care of their security themselves, which will not happen. Secondly he is not in agreement on Paris climate change agreement. Merkel tried to convince Trump and he did not commit 100 on it. In fact the biggest threat European countries face today is terrorism an they should be more worried about the ISIS and the Russians. And heart in heart they know they need NATO and America for the same. This rhetoric has to be taken therefore with a pinch of salt
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          1. M
            Marvin Arbiton
            Jul 11, 2017 at 6:26 pm
            No-one needs NATO! Don't be fooled into thinking that! NATO is itself a threat to security.
            Reply