A briefing document for Trump's last meeting with Angela Merkel, obtained by DW, underscores the White House's view of Germany. The paper focuses on Germany's demographic challenges and includes some trivial "tidbits."
The Daily Economic Briefing compiled by US President Donald Trump's Council of Economic Advisers the day before he received Chancellor Angela Merkel for a highly anticipated meeting in the White House in April frames Germany in a way that seems to be in line with the president's widely perceived negative view of the country.
"Germany has the world's largest current account surplus and its second oldest population, as well as one of the lowest unemployment rates in the European Union," reads the headline — underlined and in caps — of the two-page document, dated April 26, 2018.
Trump and Merkel held a comparatively cordial working meeting on April 27. The get-together, while friendlier than some of their previous encounters, did nothing to solve the deep disagreements between both leaders, particularly on trade and economic issues.
Trump has repeatedly lashed out against Germany's large trade surplus with the United States, which he has routinely linked with what he views as the country's meager defense spending — well below NATO's spending goal of 2 percent of gross domestic product.
After his meeting with Merkel, Trump reiterated that "all member states must honor their commitment to 2 percent, and hopefully much more, of GDP, on defense. It is essential our allies increase so everyone is paying their fair share."
The document, which has not previously been reported, also addresses Germany's immigration policy — another key point of contention between Merkel and Trump since the beginning of his presidential campaign.
"The age of Germany's population augurs a demographic crisis against the backdrop of rising immigration," according to the Daily Economic Briefing.
As the country's population ages, reads the document, "German women are not having enough children to keep the population growing or even steady. In 2017, the birth rate was 8.6 births per 1,000 residents, much lower than the death rate of 11.7 deaths per 1,000 residents. In 2016, 18.6 million residents in Germany had an immigrant background — a record high for the country — mostly attributable to the influx of refugees. While some immigrants come from the Middle East and Africa, most of the immigrant population has come from fellow European nations."
The document's focus on Germany's demographic challenges, and its emphasis on the large number of immigrants that came to the country as a result of the Merkel government's decision to suspend joint European Union rules to allow in refugees fleeing Syria's civil war in 2015, appear to support Trump's long-held view that immigration is detrimental for Germany.
Glühwein and zoos
On a lighter note — perhaps geared towards a president who is not known for being bookish — in a section called "Interesting tidbits about Germany," White House economists list what they apparently consider curious factoids about the country.
The list includes claims that Germany was the first country to institute daylight saving time, that running out of fuel on the German Autobahn is illegal, that "Glühwein," or mulled red wine, is one of the most popular drinks in the country and that Germany is not only home to more than 2,100 castles, but also has more zoos (over 400) than any other country in the world.
Asked for their take on the briefing paper, US scholars on Germany and trans-Atlantic politics said that, while the document appears to be largely correct factually, it provides a somewhat skewed view of German-American economic ties.
The paper offers "a rather odd take on the German economy," said Jeffrey Anderson, a professor at Georgetown University and the former director of its Center for German and European Studies. "I think it's fair to say that the briefing plays to Trump's concerns and prior judgments about Germany."
"The emphasis seems to be on vulnerabilities, both political — unhappiness with the country's current account surplus," he said, "and structural — the demographic trends, which are actually old news and not unique to Germany."
What's more, noted Anderson, the "one-sided picture" presented in the briefing extends to trade as well, "insofar as there is no mention of German foreign direct investment in the United States, the value of which, in aggregate dollar amounts as well as jobs created, dwarfs the annual current account deficit the US runs with Germany."
'Funny and irrelevant'
Put differently, said Anderson, the US is not as it may appear in the paper, "a 'loser' in this relationship, but actually benefits greatly from our German economic partners."
For Mark Hallerberg, the dean of research and faculty at Berlin's Hertie School of Governance, the briefing fails to accurately reflect the broad economic ties between the US and Germany.
Not only is trade absent in the paper, he said, but "I would also expect something on foreign direct investment in both countries." While German automakers have a strong presence in the US, "the US tech sector has interests in Germany."
Having said that, added Hallerberg, "the comments on Glühwein, zoos and the autobahn are pretty funny — and largely irrelevant, though, given that Trump does not drink."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Asked for a response, a German government spokeswoman said, "We generally don't comment on briefing papers of other countries."