UPDATE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to Washington has been rescheduled for Mar. 17, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a news briefing Mar. 13.
BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Washington on Monday ahead of her first meeting with President Donald Trump. The encounter between the trained physicist and veteran politician, renowned for her measured comments and reserved style, and the billionaire real-estate outsider whose off-the-cuff tweets and undiplomatic approach have rocked American politics could produce an interesting dynamic.
But despite the difference in styles, hopes are high that Europe’s most powerful leader will be able to use her savvy and experience to dispel some of the angst that has grown internationally over the first weeks of Trump’s administration.
Though she’s talked by phone with Trump, Tuesday’s meeting in person with the new president will present her with a good opportunity to get a read of “who is calling the shots” and “who has the president’s ear,” said Sylke Tempel, an expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations.
“You can only find that out when you’re there, and this is a situation where she’s particularly good because she observes things,” Tempel said.
In Merkel’s 12 years as chancellor she worked well with both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and she’s also demonstrated that she won’t be pushed around by leaders who try to use what Tempel called “macho” tactics with her.
“Putin tried that on her, Erdogan tried that and there are quite a few others,” Tempel said. “She has an enormous amount of patience, an internal calm and self-confidence, and the kind of personality that would say ‘I’ve seen macho characters come and go, and I’ve seen men making a lot of mistakes.'”
In addition to establishing a relationship with Trump and getting a firsthand read of the new White House dynamics, there are a wide range of issues that Merkel is expected to address.
With Trump’s “America first” economic leanings, his questioning of multilateral trade deals and enthusiastic endorsement of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, Merkel’s main goal is expected to be to impress upon the president her view that a strong EU is also in Washington’s strategic and economic interests.
Alluding to this, she told Parliament on Thursday that she plans to emphasize that “even if in parts of the world we see protectionist and nationalist approaches on the rise, Europe may never isolate, seal itself off or withdraw.”
She’s bringing with her a trade delegation that reportedly includes the heads of both BMW and Siemens, whose companies together employ around 120,000 people in the U.S. in their factories and related businesses.
Trade between the U.S. and Europe is “advantageous for both sides,” Merkel said after meeting German business leaders in Munich on Monday.
“Talking directly is always much better than talking about each other,” she said. “That will be my motto on this visit, which I am looking forward to.”
Trump has vocalized several other differences with Merkel, notably on the campaign trail last year when he called her decision in 2015 to allow 890,000 asylum seekers into Germany a “disaster” and said that “Hillary Clinton wants to be America’s Angela Merkel.”
Trump has also openly suggested that NATO is obsolete and has urged European countries to live up to commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense, though U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reassured Europeans in Munich last month that America’s commitment to the alliance was “unwavering.” Trump has elicited European concerns on multiple other issues, too, including his more friendly approach to Russia and his position on climate change.
In pointed remarks about Germany specifically, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro last month said that the country was using a “grossly undervalued” euro to “exploit” the U.S. and EU, and last week singled out the U.S. deficit with Germany as “one of the most difficult” trade issues Washington faces.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble scoffed at the idea Germany was somehow using currency manipulation to bolster exports, telling a group of foreign reporters in Berlin last week that the trade surplus was due to “the competitiveness of German industry” — in other words, Germany makes products Americans want to buy.
Despite the differences, Merkel told Parliament she would emphasize how much the U.S. and Europe have in common.
“I am deeply convinced that the trans-Atlantic partnership based on common values is in all of our interests, not only for us Europeans,” she said.
“I’ll hold my talks with President Donald Trump in this spirit. Precisely because the nature of the trans-Atlantic relationship has changed, Europe has decided to take more responsibility in the future, both in our own neighborhood and beyond.”