In her annual summer press Q&A session, the German chancellor stressed that Europe and the US are not enemies. She also held up the EU as a model of a "win-win" situation — words clearly aimed in Washington's direction.
In her yearly meet-the-press session before her summer vacation, Angela Merkel put forward the European Union as an example of cooperation and multilateralism. While reaffirming the centrality of Germany's trans-Atlantic relations with the US, she acknowledged that President Donald Trump had put the countries' traditional friendship "under pressure."
When asked whether she agreed with Trump that the US and the EU were "foes," the chancellor replied, "I'm not going to adopt that choice of words."
When asked why Trump seems to have developed an antipathy toward Germany, Merkel said she "hadn't done any research into the root causes" but surmised that it may have to do with Germany's economic might.
She said that she has tried to argue against Trump's accusations that Germany was maintaining a skewed balance of trade with the US with arguments, for instance, that the trade balance favors the US when services are included.
But she admitted that Trump wasn't always persuaded.
More influential EU
While avoiding confrontational language, Merkel sketched out a vision of a multilateral European Union ready to emancipate itself somewhat from the US and assume a greater role globally.
Merkel said the events of the past months had "confirmed" the truth of her statement from May 2017 that "the days when we could completely rely on the US are in part over." And she added that the European Union's geography made it predestined to exert greater influence.
Read more: US-German conflicts — what you need to know
"It's legitimate for Europe to find a role of its own in the world," Merkel told journalists. "We have a number of the world's conflicts directly on our doorstep. So Europe needs to play a greater role in resolving conflict."
That, Merkel said, would involve increased German spending on defense, if not at anything like the levels Trump has demanded.
Possible trade war
Amid increasing conflicts between the US and the EU and other parts of the world over trade, Merkel acknowledged that the situation was "serious." And she cited recent history as an alternative model to Trumpian protectionism.
"The financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 was only overcome through multinational action, for instance, by the G20," Merkel said. "China also made a big contribution. This path led us out of an extremely complicated situation."
With regard to possible US tariffs on foreign automobiles, which could potentially hurt German carmakers, Merkel stressed the international character of the industry, pointing out that BMW's largest factory is located in Spartanburg, South Carolina. She also took aim at US protectionism.
"The possible tariffs violate the rules of the World Trade Organization and endanger the prosperity of many people around the world," Merkel said.
She said the EU was united behind European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who travels to the US next week for trade talks. She said the EU was prepared to impose retaliatory tariffs if necessary but that this would be "the worst solution."
Plea for more civility
Although questions about President Trump and EU-US relations set the tone for the session, Merkel also had the opportunity to address other issues, including the conflict over migrants that threatened to bring down her government earlier this month.
Merkel had some choice words when asked about her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, who initiated that conflict.
"I'm responsible for ensuring that the government is able to function," Merkel said. "We found a joint path forward. The sine qua non is that ministers recognize the chancellor's responsibility for determining policies. If that's not the case, cooperation in a government would be impossible."
Merkel also said there had been a certain "erosion of language" and called for a change in tone in German political culture.
"I try to pay attention to my language and describe things as precisely as possible," Merkel told reporters, saying she aimed to combat the trend toward "squalidness" in political discourse.
That remark was pointed not only at Seehofer but also the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in Germany and Trump himself.
Merkel's performance was a reassertion of her own particular brand of low-key but thus far indefeasible authority. Despite weeks of speculation that her reign might be coming to an end or that she no longer had the energy for the job, the chancellor has survived and seems little worse the wear for the acrimony.
She will now have a chance to recharge her batteries for a bit before the battles at home and abroad resume.