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On trade, and much else, Donald Trump and Angela Merkel are worlds apart

17 March 2017

7:42 PM

17 March 2017

7:42 PM

Oh dear. Anybody who thought that, contrary to expectations, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump might get along seems to have been gravely mistaken. The meeting between the two world leaders was meant to have been held on Tuesday, but was put off by a snow storm. Things still looked pretty chilly in Washington today.

Seated next to each other in the White House for the first photo-op, the Donald and the Angela – two leaders with obviously antithetical worldviews – looked terrifically awkward. They didn’t shake hands. Angela seemed slightly more civil. She tried to talk to the president. He just ignored her.

The press conference was only slightly warmer. The closest moment to friendliness was when Trump made quite a joke  in relation to the Obama administration’s alleged spying both on his campaign and Ms Merkel’s government. ‘As far as wire-tapping, in the last administration’ he said, ‘at least we have something in common’.

The two tried at certain moments to sound positive. But on substantive matters, they talked at completely cross purposes. Trump described some ‘shared values’ and about America and Germany helping women do well in the economy — no sexist he! — and thanked her for her leadership in supporting NATO. He also applauded Merkel for working against terror, but then said ‘immigration is a privilege not a right’, which seemed to be yet another dig at Merkel’s refugee policy.

Merkel for her part said that ‘we the Germans owe a lot to America’, but she was speaking historically, about the Marshall Plan. On the future, she only talked about ‘potential’ areas from agreement. She talked about ‘clarifying’ the situation in Ukraine with America’s help, and how the president. She rather ducked a question about her feelings towards Trump. ‘I’m here to represent German interests,’ she said, ‘The president of the United States, well, stands up for America’s interests. She then made a few vague statements about how ‘people are different  … that is diversity which is good … sometimes  we have to make compromises.’

On trade, Merkel and Trump are clearly worlds apart. When a German journalist asked about Trump’s ‘America First’ economic nationalism, his ‘isolationism’ and his hostility to the media, he snapped ‘nice friendly reporter’. Then he said ‘America has been treated very unfairly by many countries over the years. But I’m not an isolationist, I’m a free trader but I’m also a fair trader — and our free trade has led to a lot bad things happening.’ He added it was ‘fake news’ to call him an isolationist.

Merkel, for her part, said ‘we haven’t had much time to discuss economic issues’ and then stressed that Germany’s economic future was bound with Europe’s — a shot across Trump’s anti-EU bows. She then stressed the importance of freedom of movement and of helping refugees. ‘This is obviously what we have an exchange of views about,’ she said.

Trump then added that he was bringing jobs back to the United States and this was ‘going to be a great policy for not only the United States, but a great policy worldwide.’ He added: ‘Germany has done very well’ on trade, but suggested that this, along with the trade success of other countries, had not been beneficial to the United States. ‘We are going to be a very different country.’ Merkel replied that trade deals can be struck where ‘both sides win’ and that she hoped a new version of an US-EU trade deal — something Trump has scotched — would be restored.

Another German reporter asked Trump if he ever regretted any of his tweets, referring, it seemed to Trump’s Twitter attacks on Angela Merkel. ‘Very seldom,’ he replied.

Before the meeting, there was lots of speculation that Merkel would try to woo Trump. It’s fair now to say that, if she is on a charm offensive, she’s going to have her work cut out.






body language was still poor, and the leaders seemed to be talking from different pages about trade and future US-German relations. Trump talked positively about trade with



although Trump made a couple of kind phrases about the US doing ‘fantastic



Trump was asked if he regretted any of his tweets





As Trump talked about immigration being an ‘honour not a right








Trump has said many nasty things about Merkel. He has repeatedly said that Merkel has wrecked Germany with her decision to open up the country to refugees. He said Hillary Clinton would be a disaster because she ‘wants to be America’s Angela Merkel’. When Merkel was named Time magazine’s person of the year, he Tweeted




I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite,” he wrote on the social media site to his over 5 million followers. “They picked person who is ruining Germany.”


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