Analysis

In Painfully Blunt Speech, Merkel Fills Global Leadership Void Created by Trump

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

German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising a glass of beer after delivering a speech during a joint campaigning event of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union in Munich, May 27, 2017.
SVEN HOPPE/AFP

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.

Europe, she told an election rally in Munich on Sunday, could no longer depend on its traditional British and U.S. allies.

“We have to know that we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans,” she told a beer hall full of delighted supporters.

Her words were not just painfully blunt and possibly quite true, but also a public challenge to the entire order that has underpinned Western stability since the end of World War II.

She didn’t name names, of course, but her realization came after spending just a few days with Donald Trump at the NATO and G7 summits. It’s hard to think of a clearer sign of the massive and rapid damage Trump has done to decades-old partnerships than this devastating speech.

Neither summit went well. At the G7, Trump attacked Germany’s trade surplus with the United States and refused to pledge support for the Paris climate accords. The NATO summit was similarly awkward, with the president berating fellow members for not paying up as he believed they should and declining to explicitly commit to Article 5, the alliance's principle of collective defense.

Merkel has been quite clear about her misgivings over Trump, right from the beginning. As other world leaders rushed to congratulate him on his election, Merkel responded with a carefully worded pledge to offer “close cooperation” on the basis of a long list of shared values.

She could not have made her doubt clearer that these values were indeed shared, as she did just three days ago at the NATO summit, when she pointedly said that it was “not walls that will be successful, but open societies that are built on common values.”

And Merkel’s message that Europe must now rely on itself is not entirely new. Three months ago, at an informal EU summit in Malta, Merkel also made plain her belief that Europe had its destiny in its own hands.

This was not long after Trump’s inauguration, when there was still some hope that he might moderate his stance once in office.  But Merkel clearly has no more patience for a “wait and see” approach, or even much apparent faith that the institutions of U.S. decision-making can survive their current battering.

And she has work to do nearer to home. Those naysayers predicting the doom and downfall of Europe have been given pause by Emmanuel Macron’s win in France. Merkel seems now re-energized for an ambitious project to lead the future reinvention of Europe.

Her speech was similarly brutal regarding Britain’s role in the new power dynamic; maybe a side issue, but painfully miserable to at least the 48 per cent of Britons who voted to remain.

And her words also carried a warning to other EU members more effusive towards Trump. Unity is going to be as important as ever in this new European project, with the traditional German-French partnership at its helm.

Indeed, Merkel did make a fulsome reference in her speech to Macron, another European leader not afraid to confront Trump. Not only has he made it clear that his now-famous bone-crunching handshake with the president in Brussels last week was entirely intentional, he has also already explicitly lumped together Trump, Reccip Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin.

Of course, Merkel was also making an election speech – her Social Democratic rival Martin Schulz, a former European parliament president, is another big EU cheerleader.

Merkel looks set to be elected to a fourth term when Germany goes to the polls this September. Her comments reportedly received a full minute of applause, and she ended her speech with a hefty swig on a stein full of lager. It was great photo opportunity for a leader who has already been in power for more than a decade and may only be warming up.