by Dominik Meier and Inga Karten, Miller & Meier Consulting, Berlin, Brussels and Washington (website)
This Tuesday, Donald John Trump took the last hurdle on his path to the US presidency by securing a victory in the Electoral College. In the meantime, the German public has gotten more used to the idea of a Trump administration. After an initial wave of emotional reactions – Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen, for instance, expressed “utter shock and surprise” after the vote in November – commentators and politicians have started to rationally assess the election’s impact on German and European politics.
Germany’s leading news magazine Der Spiegel argues that consequences will be immediate and drastic, especially in economic terms. First, Trump’s announcement that in the future Europeans must rely on their own military resources, rather than on America’s military might, will lead to a massive increase of the defense budget. Experts predict that the current budget of around 30 billion Euro will double. Chancellor Angela Merkel has already declared her plans to spend more money on Germany’s notoriously underequipped army, the Bundeswehr. But per current surveys, around two thirds of all German citizens strongly oppose increased military spending. Political strive seems inevitable.
Second, key decision-makers fear that trade relations between Germany and the USA, a cornerstone of German economic policy since the end of World War II, are in peril. Given Trump’s strongly negative stance on free trade agreements, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) will not come to pass any time soon. Vice Chancellor and Minister of Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel has fought long and hard for this trade deal against massive opposition in his own party, the Social Democrats. Thus, Trump’s election is undoubtedly a great setback for him personally. However, consequences might be even more dramatic. At present, the German trade surplus in transatlantic business is more than 50 billion Euro. Germany is used to being an “export nation”, but a more isolationist US economic policy that aims at restricting free trade could alter this status fundamentally.
It is no secret that most German politicians had hoped for – and indeed expected – a President Clinton, rather than a President Trump. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had even referred to Trump as a “preacher of hate”, a term usually reserved in German discourse for radical Islamic clerics who incite their followers to acts of terror and violence. Merkel offered the President-elect a close cooperation based, as she pointedly added, “on democracy, freedom, and respect for the dignity of all people”. Irrespective of this aside, however, the Chancellor is first and foremost a “Realpolitiker”, a pragmatist who knows how to deal with powerful men and values rational solutions above emotional politics. This week, she sent one of her most trusted foreign policy advisors, Christoph Heusgen, to New York to establish direct contact with Trump’s transition team. Time will tell how these careful advances will pan out.
© Copyright 2016 Miller and Meier Consulting
Ken Feltman: I have known and worked with Dominick Meier for several years and have seen him tame some of the most difficult political personalities in Europe (those who are members of IAPC or EAPC know his diplomatic way of prevailing). His staff is exceptional and Americans are fortunate to have Inga Karten in Washington. Should you wish to contact them, please do so directly or I will be happy to make an introduction.