Guest Opinion: All eyes on Germany
President Barack Obama spent part of last week in Germany, underlining the importance of the relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel and, particularly, their personal rapport. With Obama’s imminent disappearance from the world stage, the transition to a Donald Trump administration is creating international disquiet, as world leaders prepare for the unknown. The German chancellor is arguably the most important figure of stability in international politics.
They met in Berlin, increasingly the capital of Europe, although Brussels still hosts the headquarters of both the European Union and NATO. British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Francois Hollande and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy all traveled to Berlin for their farewell-as-president meeting with Obama.
Germany is the economic and, thus, probably, the political center of Europe, an ironic epilogue to its loss of two major wars in the last century. There will be national elections in Germany next year, but Merkel is still the most solidly based politically of the leaders of the most powerful Western European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Britain. Journalists questioning Merkel and Obama in a Berlin press conference were most interested in finding out if she intended to run for what in effect would be her fourth term.
As chancellor since 2005, her head remains firmly above whatever glass ceiling there might have been in Germany. If she chooses to run again in 2017, it is likely that she will again stay on top of the complex, multiparty scene that German politics constitutes.
Her and Germany’s relationship with the United States under the leadership of the newly elected American president remains to be defined. She got along smoothly with Obama, but she is also easily enough of a pragmatist to work effectively with Trump where she sees American and German interests as coinciding. She also had a close relationship with Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush.
The principles that she as chancellor stands for include some that Trump did not advocate as a candidate. These include efforts to combat climate change, opposition to Russian designs in Ukraine, support of a strong NATO, economic reform and free trade, including international agreements. Merkel has also pursued a German policy of welcoming immigrants, some 1 million in 2015. She would agree with Trump on strong economies with lots of job creation and firm opposition to Islamic State encroachment.
The American president-elect should not imagine that he and America can get along in the world without good relations with Germany and its chancellor. Neither Bush nor Obama thought so. Ukraine and Russia won’t do it.