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Merkel at Davos: Right-wing populism is a 'poison'

January 24, 2018

Angela Merkel has told WEF delegates at Davos that her government would get right-wing populism "under control, but it is a poison." The chancellor insisted that protectionism would not answer the world's problems.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Davos
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Keystone/L. Gillieron

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday told delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the rise of right-wing populist parties in Europe was "a poison" and that nationalist policies risked fracturing international ties.

Merkel said she hoped that support for such parties would not rise further and that her government was doing all it could to get the populist wave "under control."

Read more: Globalization: Even Davos gets the blues

The far-right anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party won seats in the German Bundestag for the first time in last September's parliamentary election, while similar populist parties also saw major electoral gains in 2017 in countries like France and the Netherlands.

Addressing the surge of right-wing support in her home country, Merkel said that Germans were initially attracted to the right during the Greek financial crisis, when Germany was paying a significant bulk of the bailout funds to Athens, and again in 2015, as over one million migrants fled to Europe from besieged regions in the Middle East and Africa.

Protectionism not the answer

Merkel also warned delegates that "protectionism was not the answer" to the world's problems, in what was a veiled rebuke against US President Donald Trump, who himself is set to arrive at Davos on Thursday and close the forum with a speech on Friday.

"We think that shutting ourselves off, isolating ourselves, will not lead us into a good future," Merkel said in her speech. Countries complaining about unfair trade policies should instead seek multilateral rather than unilateral solutions, she added.

However, the chancellor said that European states should not complain when other countries like the US overhaul their tax systems, and instead respond with their own reforms. Merkel pointed to efforts by her and French President Emmanuel Macron to forge a common European tax regime, which would require other EU nations to manage within a more competitive tax environment.

Merkel for stronger EU foreign policy

Merkel also called on European Union leaders to form a stronger, more unified foreign policy. The EU, she said, had been too hesitant in the face of threats from the so-called "Islamic State," the war in Syria and conflicts in Africa. 

Read more: Opinion: EU foreign policy without Trump

"We need to take more responsibility, we need to take our destiny into our own hands," the chancellor said. The EU needed to speak with one voice on the global stage "if we Europeans want to be taken seriously."

On Brexit, Merkel said she "regrets" Britain's decision to leave the bloc but was nevertheless looking forward to maintaining close ties with London.

"We are available for any form of partnership," she said, but stressed that access to the EU's common market would always be tied to freedom of movement. "We cannot make any compromises there," she said.

Gender gap taking center stage in Davos

dm/ls (AP, Reuters)