Was it really worth it? Rioting on the streets, hundreds of people injured and administrative costs of €100 million – all to host an inconsequential waffle fest, resulting in a vague set of resolutions, most of which we knew about already. We all knew nineteen of the G20 leaders are in favour of free trade. We all knew nineteen of the G20 leaders are keen to limit climate change. We all knew Donald Trump would be the odd man out. Why didn’t the Germans save their money and spare Hamburg several days of chaos?
The Spectator said last week that holding the G20 summit in Hamburg was bound to be a risky business. The city centre location made it difficult to police, and Hamburg’s anarchist subculture guaranteed a large pool of local troublemakers. In the end, the police did pretty well: 20,000 Polizei managed to contain around 100,000 protestors – more or less. The looting and vandalism was a sorry spectacle, but there were no fatalities, thank goodness, and the politicians were able to go about their business – just about. After the recent terrorist atrocities in Germany, it could have been a great deal worse – but it was hardly the best advert for Teutonic efficiency, especially in an election year.
So what did Merkel get out of it – if anything? Well, at least she had the pleasure of making her guests sit through Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the EU anthem) at Hamburg’s glitzy new concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie. However even the amusement of watching Theresa May squirm and Donald Trump wilt with boredom is hardly worth €100 million of anybody’s money. Apart from orchestral schadenfreude, what else did she stand to gain? Unlike some other G20 leaders, she wasn’t willing to look for silver linings in Trump’s continued refusal to support the Paris Agreement on climate change (maybe they should have called it the Pittsburgh Agreement if they wanted him to sign it). ‘On this issue it has become very clear that we were unable to form a consensus,’ she said, bluntly. The real benefit for Merkel wasn’t her dealings with Donald Trump – it was her dealings with his daughter.
Back in April, this magazine noted that Germany had embarked on a different strategy for tackling the Trump Administration. Rather than just meeting The Donald head on, Merkel was engaging with Ivanka. Ivanka was invited to the W20 in Berlin (a sort of female equivalent of the G20) where she shared a platform with Merkel. She was treated with respect, particularly regarding her interest in women’s rights. It was the same story this week in Hamburg. German journalists were indignant when Ivanka took her father’s place at the negotiating table. Not Merkel. When Ivanka launched a fund for female entrepreneurs in developing countries this weekend, Merkel was by her side. The $325 million pot for this so-called ‘Ivanka Fund’ included a $50 million contribution from Donald Trump. Would Trump have stumped up this sort of cash if this fund had been launched by Merkel?
Ivanka has her father’s ear, and in some respects – especially women’s rights – she seems closer to German (and EU) positions than her father. Therefore it makes good sense to talk to her, and let her do the talking with her dad. Of course this kind of approach is more associated with medieval monarchies than modern presidencies, but Trump is more of a monarch than a president. The Germans have a word for this kind of thing – it’s called Realpolitik. Superficially the G20 was a damp squib, but for Germany the fringe benefits may well be more useful than the big set pieces. With her deep understanding of the Russian language, Merkel found an effective way of dealing with Vladimir Putin. With her deepening understanding of Ivanka, she may have found an effective way of dealing with Donald Trump.