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World reacts to Merkel's pivot to Europe

Lewis Sanders IV
May 29, 2017

The German chancellor has elicited strong responses across the globe after suggesting Europe could no longer rely on the US and UK. From across the Atlantic to continental Europe, DW examines the reactions.

Merkel in front of a German and EU flag
Image: Getty Images/AFP/M. Schrader

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday prompted a fury of reactions from across the Atlantic and within Europe when she suggested that Europe could no longer rely on two of its traditional allies, the US and the UK.

"The times when we could fully rely on others have passed us by a little bit; that's what I've experienced in recent days," Merkel said during a rally in Munich. "We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands."

Merkel's remarks come in the aftermath of a NATO summit and G7 meeting in Italy, which brought US President Donald Trump to Europe on his first official foreign trip. But she described the interaction with Trump, most notably on climate change, as "very unsatisfactory." Trump instead deemed the trip a "great success for America."

US divided

In the US, the reaction was mixed, with Trump's supporters dismissing Merkel's comments while his opponents appeared to mourn the loss of the US' special relationship with Germany.

"If the President of the United States calls that a huge success, I'd hate to see failure," said Adam Schiff, Democratic lawmaker and high-ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haas, a veteran US diplomat, described Merkel's comments as a "watershed" in relations between the two allies. "(It's) what the US has sought to avoid since World War II," said Haas.

But Trump's supporters have taken Merkel's comments as a sign of the president's success. Bill Mitchell, a conservative commentator dubbed Trump's "most unrelenting social media surrogate" by US media, took the opportunity to lampoon Merkel.

"Merkel, hero of the left and train wreck of Europe says, 'she cannot rely upon Donald Trump.' Awesome. He opposes your raging stupidity," Mitchell said in a tweet.

UK: 'Strong partner'

In the UK, Home Secretary Amber Rudd told BBC radio that even though the UK is leaving the EU, the bloc could still rely on London as a partner.

"As we begin the negotiations about leaving the EU, we will be able to reassure Germany and other European countries that we are going to be a strong partner to them. A strong partner on defense, security and we hope in trade," Rudd said.

Europe: 'Time to look forward'

But Guy Verhofstadt, an EU lawmaker and head of Brexit negotiations for the European Parliament, said that the shifts in decades-long relationships need not be a detriment to the bloc's future.

"Merkel says US under Trump no longer reliable partner. And UK has left the table. It's now time for EU to reinvent itself and move forward," Verhofstadt said.

Press reacts

In analysis published by Israeli daily Haaretz, Daniella Peled of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting said the fallout of Trump's visit to Europe has effectively undermined trust across the Atlantic.

"It's hard to think of a clearer sign of the massive and rapid damage Trump has done to decades-old partnerships than Merkel's devastating speech," Peled said. "Angela Merkel has once again cemented her status as the new leader of the free world, not that it was a position that needed much bolstering."

London-based news magazine The Economist said that Merkel, a committed "Atlanticist," knew that making such remarks at this moment would "make waves."

"Mr. Trump, Brexit and the election of Emmanuel Macron in France have together persuaded Germany's chancellor that while talk of Germany as 'the new leader of the liberal world' is nonsense, continental Europe must now do more in unison, perhaps with some German convening," the publication said.

'Deeply convinced transatlanticist'

Indeed, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert emphasized that Merkel has called for more unity across the EU before, adding that she is a "deeply convinced transatlanticist."

"The chancellor's words speak for themselves - they were clear and comprehensible," Seibert said during a regular press briefing. "Because transatlantic relations are so important to this chancellor, it is right from her viewpoint to speak out honestly about differences."

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere added that cooperation between Berlin, London and Washington are "of paramount significance for our country," especially when it comes to security and defense.

'Most important postwar relationship'

However, some highlighted that Trump's ability to undermine the historic relationship between Berlin and Washington has served the interests of other actors.

David Frum, senior editor of the US news magazine The Atlantic, said that Trump's behavior as caused a rift between Germany and the US has effectively served Russian interests.

"Since 1945, the supreme strategic goal in Europe of the USSR and then Russia was the severing of the US-German alliance. Trump delivered," Frum said.

Agreeing with Frum's comments on its benefits for Moscow, Ian Bremmer, founder and director of the consultancy Eurasia Group, said that the "most important postwar relationship," the transatlantic alliance, is "now unraveling."

"There's not been a statement like this from Germany in generations," Bremmer said.

Trump and Europe: Partners or Rivals?