Trump and Merkel: International Relations in a Handshake

Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trump
Ms. Merkel and Mr. Trump

Perhaps a lot of people do not know that Mr. Donald Trump did shake hands with Ms. Angela Merkel. He did it once upon welcoming her for the first time, and once more at the end of the news press conference. However, and for an unknown reason, he totally did not consent to a handshake at the oval office in front of the photographers after both of Ms. Merkel and the journalists openly asked for a handshake photo session.

To answer that mystery, we should examine the ideologies and the set of principles behind both leaders to stand on the motivation behind the mentioned refusal.

Since 2005, Ms. Merkel is enjoying the position of the Chancellor of Germany. In addition, she is the leader of the governing Christian Democratic Union party (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU) since 2000. The party is a center to center-right on the political spectrum and an avid pro-European union entity. Through the refugees’ crisis, Ms. Merkel has been adopting a tolerant immigration and refugee’s policy of “Willkommenskultur” that translates to “welcoming culture” and an “open doors and borders” policy.

That tolerant policy resulted in a decrease in approval rates of Ms. Merkel and her party especially since some criminal incidents involving immigrants were highlighted in the German and the international media. Although many of these allegations, not all of them, were found to be unsupported, the political damage was already done. Right now, the right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-European union (or at least sceptic about it) Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) party is climbing the polls by making use of the increased resentments against the refugees and their imported cultures and faiths – especially Islam – who fled the Middle East civil wars. Both of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SDP), led by Mr. Martin Schulz, and the CDU suffered votes’ loss in several state elections especially the one in 2016 where most of the lost votes from right and left went to the right-wing AfD party.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany party
The right-wing Alternative for Germany party

Ms. Merkel is pure globalist who believes in open trade and the single European market. This is understandable since Germany has an export-led economy ranking third on the global scale in exports after China and the United States. In 2016, Germany exported over $144 billion of high-end goods to the USA with a trade surplus of about $65 billion. The total global trade surplus of Germany exceeds $215 billion which fuelled tensions with not only the Trump administration, but also with Germany’s neighbors within the European Union itself! Mr. Trump and his administration have accused Ms. Merkel of exploiting an undervalued euro to boost the Germans’ economy. Although a weak euro – with respect to Germany’s strong manufacturing ecosystem – is one of the reasons for a strong economy, there are others like tight fiscal policies, exporting high-end and advanced products (cars, planes, medicament, etc.), low level of individual and corporations’ debt, suitable negotiations with trade unions, job security, increased numbers of vocational trainees, controlled and gradual military spending, and the dwindling economies of other surrounding countries. Several members of the European Union and the European commission repetitively urged Germany to increase its public and infrastructure spending to spur an overall European growth and prevent the creation of sluggish economies within the weak areas of the euro zone.

Germany has a serious problem of a population decline. By 2060 – before the huge numbers of immigrants they received – they would have lost about 10 to 16% of their residents. That was the real reason for the open doors policy adopted by Ms. Merkel. However, it backfired a little bit with the rise of right-wing movements across Europe that condemned the huge influx of immigrants and promoted fear of their cultures.

On the exact opposite end of the spectrum comes Mr. Trump.

Mr. Trump and the Republican Party – which controls the USA Congress – are to the right of the CDU and Ms. Merkel especially from the social perspective. During his presidential campaign in 2016, Mr. Trump took a hard position against illegal immigration flowing from the southern borders from Mexico. He openly criticised Ms. Merkel’s policy with the illegal immigrants. Ms. Merkel, of course, is an ardent supporter of NATO. In a previous article, we mentioned the huge criticism directed by Mr. Trump by mentioning the obsoleteness of the NATO and the unwillingness of the USA to take the majority of its costs. Many countries participating in NATO – including Germany – do not spend the minimum threshold of defence spending according to NATO’s guidelines (2% of the country’s GDP).

Mr. Rex Tellerson's confirmation hearing as a Secretary of State
Mr. Rex Tellerson’ s confirmation hearing as a Secretary of State

Recently, Mr. Rex Tellerson, the Secretary of the State, skipped a NATO meeting and will visit China and Russia instead. That cast shadows about the US’ intentions with the NATO and the obvious change of directions towards the old enemies and allies.

“I always thought that Merkel was a great leader, but what she is doing right now is insane!” Mr. Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America

Mr. Trump’s and his administration’s positions regarding the immigration is consolidated in the opinions of Mr. Steve King’s famous tweet that:

“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Steve King – a republican member of the House of Representatives from Iowa’s 4th congressional district.

Mr. Steve King – a republican member of the House of Representatives
Mr. Steve King – a republican member of the House of Representatives

On the trade side, Mr. Trump has promised the Americans an economic protective policy. He insisted that the NAFTA trade agreement between USA, Canada, and Mexico will be revisited with an emphasis on trade deficit. So, he took a soft position with Canada who has a trade deficit with USA of only $11 billion compared to the $58 billion deficit with Mexico, which, combined with illegal immigration from Mexico, led Mr. Trump to a tough attitude against Mexico. He threatened to hit Mexico with tariffs to shrink the trade deficit and to fund a border wall to stifle the illegal Mexican immigration.

Contrary to Germany, Mr. Trump promised to increase the military funding by more than $50 billion and to reduce public spending with exception to the American army.

The two leaders are vastly dissimilar. No wonder the handshake was a problem!