(BBG) President Donald Trump blasted Germany anew over trade and defense, ratcheting up a dispute with Chancellor Angela Merkel that risks getting personal and undermining a trans-Atlantic bond that is the bedrock of U.S.-European relations.
Trump’s comments came in an early-morning tweet on Tuesday issued just as Merkel hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Berlin, where they held a joint cabinet meeting and signed cooperation agreements. Modi suggested that India will adhere to the Paris climate accords, while Trump makes up his mind.
“We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military,” the U.S. president posted on Twitter. “This will change.”
The message came minutes after Merkel and Modi held a joint press conference in which the German leader called India a “reliable partner with respect to big projects.” That contrasted with her comments on Sunday that Europe needs to step up as trans-Atlantic ties, which have underpinned German foreign policy since World War II, become “to some extent” less dependable.
“That’s great,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday in reaction to Merkel’s remarks. “That’s what the president called for. The president is getting results and more countries are stepping up their burden sharing.”
Merkel regards her speech on Europe becoming more active internationally as a reflection of the reality during the Ukraine conflict and the refugee crisis, according to a senior German government official with knowledge of her thinking. Her comments may have been interpreted differently in the U.S., causing an uproar, but that’s not her fault, said the official, asking not to be named discussing private deliberations.
Spicer said that Trump feels he and Merkel have a “fairly unbelievable” relationship.
“They get along very well,” he told reporters at the White House. “He has a lot of respect for her.”
Modi to Li
Trump’s tweet underscored the deterioration of links with a key NATO ally, yet his timing also highlighted Germany’s web of relations with international partners who broadly share Merkel’s free-trade outlook and conviction on combating climate change. After hosting Modi, Merkel is due to meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday. She’s also looking to French President Emmanuel Macron as an ally in strengthening the euro area.
In a speech to a German-Indian business forum later on Tuesday, Merkel took another tilt at a president elected on a ticket of “America First,” referring to “a whole series of protectionist tendencies” emerging worldwide. She said “it’s necessary to be open to achieve fair trade conditions.”
Merkel, who’s campaigning for a fourth term in September elections, stuck to her message at her party bloc’s weekly parliamentary caucus meeting. While trans-Atlantic relations remain of paramount importance, disagreement shouldn’t be swept under the carpet, a party official quoted her as telling the closed-door session.
While it’s unclear whether Merkel has deliberately picked a fight with Trump or misspoken and bitten off more than she can chew, challenging his stance is popular in Germany.
Polls suggest that Merkel has overwhelming backing among German voters, and even among her political opponents, for taking a stand. It’s the “calling of our times to stand up to this man with everything that we represent,” Social Democrat Martin Schulz, Merkel’s main election challenger, said in a campaign speech late Monday.
It’s also not the first time a German chancellor has clashed with a U.S. president. Merkel’s Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, publicly disavowed George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq in a trans-Atlantic rift that Merkel worked to repair upon her election in 2005.
Forging Own Path
Alongside Modi, Merkel said that while trans-Atlantic relations are of “paramount significance,” the European Union had to forge its own path in the world “considering the current situation.”
“What I said was simply to indicate that, here are even more reasons beyond those we already have that Europe needs to take its destiny into its own hands,” she said.
Modi, the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, welcomed a stronger global role for the EU and expressly lauded the bloc’s most powerful leader.
“We always want that the European Union should be stronger, should be more active,” Modi said. “Through Chancellor Merkel, we will be able to work with the European Union. It’s very easy for us.”
Modi’s comments contrasted with Trump’s meeting with EU leaders in Brussels last week, when he said that Germany is “very bad” for flooding the U.S. with cars, hectored NATO allies on military spending and refused to explicitly back the principle of collective defense. At the Group of Seven summit that followed, Trump’s first, passages on free trade and on immigration were substantially altered compared to previous years, while the U.S. was alone in failing to commit to the global Paris climate agreement.
After failing to sway Trump, Merkel has turned her attention to forging consensus among other G-20 nations at a summit meeting she’s hosting in Hamburg in July.
Modi signaled that India will move forward on its climate agenda even if the U.S. exits the Paris agreement, saying politicians have “absolutely no right” to put in jeopardy the environment for future generations. He praised Merkel’s experience and Germany’s economic example to India.
“We are meant for each other,” Modi said.