Merkel and Trump meet amid trade, European Union, NATO, Brexit divisions


German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to meet US President Donald Trump, March 17, in their first encounter at the White House since he became president, after having said Merkel’s acceptance of refugees was a “catastrophic mistake” and that she was “ruining Germany.”


Merkel, Trump


Trump’s remarks will overshadow the meeting, which will also have to resolve two other major differences between Germany and the US. First, Trump has made clear he is not in favor of multilateral trade deals, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Second, he has criticized countries — like Germany — that do not pay their way within NATO.


Merkel hit back a remarks by US President-elect Donald Trump, who criticized her migrant policy as a “catastrophic mistake” that had paved the way for terrorism throughout Europe.


“I think she made one very catastrophic mistake and that was taking all of these illegals, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody even knows where they come from. So I think she made a catastrophic mistake, very bad mistake,” Trump told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag in January.


However, Merkel accused Trump of conflating two separate issues. “I would clearly separate (terrorism) from the existence of refugees in relation to the Syrian civil war…the majority of Syrians left their country because of the civil war, because of the fight against [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad or the oppression by Assad,” she said.


Meanwhile, the issue of TTIP will have to be on the agenda, with Merkel having pressed the previous President Barack Obama to back the deal. Obama had wanted TTIP signed off before he left office, but failed when negotiations slowed down. Obama’s last visit to Europe before leaving office ended in Germany — a sign of the closeness of their relationship.


However, Trump has made clear he is not in favor of multilateral trade deals, saying he is “putting America first.”


“The Trans-Pacific Partnership [trade deal similar to TTIP] is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country — just a continuing rape of our country. It’s a harsh word, but it’s true,” Trump said in the run-up to the US presidential election.


“The TPP would be the death blow for American manufacturing. It would give up all of our economic leverage to an international commission that would put the interests of foreign countries above our own,” he said.


Meanwhile, Merkel has the delicate matter of NATO to negotiate. Germany has long “outsourced” its defense to NATO, with 35,000 US military based in Germany — the largest US deployment in the western hemisphere.


Trump told troops of US Central Command and US Special Operations Command that other NATO member states should step up to the plate and commit to spending two percent on GDP on defense, as agreed at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.


“We strongly support NATO; we only ask that all of the NATO members make their full and proper contributions to the NATO alliance, which many of them have not been doing — many of them have not been even close,” Trump said.


Germany is well below the two percent level, according to the latest NATO figures, spending only 1.2 percent, which could be a major issue between the two leaders. 


Trump’s support for Britain leaving the European Union — known as Brexit — will also divide the two. Merkel is an arch EU federalist struggling to keep the EU and the Eurozone together. UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson saying, “We hear that we are first in line to do a great free trade deal with the United States,” following a meeting with team Trump.


​The fact that Trump has been so enthusiastic about Brexit, critical of Merkel’s refugee policy, cool on TTIP and adamant on NATO spending means that their first meeting on US soil is likely to be difficult.