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Germany seeks answers on US ambassador's comments

David Martin
June 4, 2018

The German Foreign Ministryis seeking clarity on recent controversial comments made by the new US ambassador, Richard Grenell. In an interview with Breitbart News, he said he hoped to "empower" the right wing in Europe.

Richard Allen Grenell with hand on heart
Grenell is 'excited' about conservative resurgence in EuropeImage: picture-alliance/dpa/B.v. Jutrczenka

On Monday, Germany's Foreign Ministry announced that US Ambassador Richard Grenell would be expected to address comments he made to Breitbart News when he meets with ministry officials on Wednesday. Spokesperson Christofer Burger said Grenell's inaugural visit would provide an opportunity to "explain how he wants his statements to be understood."

In the interview with the far-right website, Grenell had said he was excited by the rising wave of conservatism within Europe, adding that he saw his task as one of "empowering" Europe's right-wing governments and budding leaders. He told Breitbart:

  • "There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on," adding that the groundswell in conservative support could be tracked back to the "failed policies of the left."
  • Candidates able to articulate "consistent conservative" stances on migration, taxes and cutting red tape would continue to enjoy strong support from the "silent majority."
  • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was among his favorite European leaders. Grenell described the 31-year-old head of state as a "rock star."

In 2017, Kurz's Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) formed a governing coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Austria's young government remains one of the loudest voices in Europe for securing the bloc's external border and has been critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy.

Rolf Mützenich, deputy leader of the Social Democrats in parliament, told DW that the issue should be addressed swiftly with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "Clearly the US ambassador sees himself as an extension of a right-wing conservative world movement, and not as a representative of his country entrusted with improving and protecting political, economic and cultural relations between the US and Germany."

Mützenich added that Grenell's actions violated the 1961 Vienna Convention, under which diplomats do not interfere in the domestic affairs of a country.

Franziska Brantner, who specializes in foreign policy for the Greens, told DW that Grenell's comments should not be merely ignored. The administration of US President Donald Trump is doing everything it can to "destroy the trans-Atlantic alliance and the EU from within," she said. 

"Strengthening the right-wing and anti-establishment movements in Europe is just another building block in President Trump's isolationism and 'America First' agenda," Brantner said.

Germany 'losing credibility'

Adding fuel to the fire regarding Germany's perceived lack of defense spending, Grenell said the country was losing credibility. Echoing US President Donald Trump's gripe about Germany's military commitments, he said:

  • "(German officials) know you must have a credible threat of military action behind you if you're going to be successful in diplomacy. That's one thing that's missing from the German diplomatic conversation — they right now don't have behind them a credible threat of military action."
  • "German military officials know that the readiness issue is a serious problem, there are no working submarines, for example; they don't have a military that is currently ready."
  • NATO allies could force Germany's hand by publicly shaming it.
  • A change in culture inside NATO was necessary for the body to remain relevant.
  • NATO members should be pushed to support their allies in a military intervention. "The US should no longer come to accept any excuses for not taking part in military intervention," he said.

Based on growth predictions, Germany is set to spend just over 1 percent of GDP on defense in the next four years, well short of the 2 percent mark agreed on by NATO allies during the 2014 summit in Wales.

Germany's predicament is not helped by the fact that its military needs billions of euros more than envisaged in the latest budget to modernize its aged equipment.

Read more: Donald Trump rails against German defense spending shortfall

Despite only formally assuming the ambassadorship last month, Grenell had already raised eyebrows in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag,  by urging German companies to stop doing business with Iran after Trump announced plans to withdraw the US from the multinational nuclear pact with the country.

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