Last week’s G7 meeting and NATO summit made clear the path German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants the European Union to take in the future. She wants to unite the EU behind the banner of a global agenda that expands EU power and prestige beyond the continent. At a campaign rally over the weekend, she suggested that some relationships forged since the end of World War II “are to some extent over.” Though she did not mention the United States by name, it is quite clear that is who she was referring to.
President Trump’s visit to Europe was a slap in the face of sorts for Merkel. During his time on the continent, he lambasted NATO members who do not spend the agreed-upon 2% of their GDP on defense, frowned upon the German trade surplus, and indicated the US is strongly considering an abrupt exit from the Paris Agreement. In each instance, his stance was in direct opposition to that of his German counterpart. Merkel, who is facing reelection in September, took the opportunity to paint a picture of a world where the United States under Trump, and Europe are drifting dangerously apart because of policy differences.
The German chancellor, ever the opportunist, is looking to use Trump’s perceived positions as a raison d’etre for European unity. The dilemma with this plan is that Europe’s lack of unity has little to do with the policies of President Trump. Europe’s divisions have more to do with the European Union and Germany’s failed policies than anything happening on this side of the Atlantic. The EU refused to effectively contend with the European refugee crisis, and Germany made an ill-conceived decision to open its borders to large numbers of Syrian refugees. These instances brought about a backlash from Europeans who have grown weary of the empty promises and lack of action on the part of the EU. Brexit, and the rise of populist politicians in many European nations are symptoms of Europe’s division. The election of Macron in France, and the extinguishing of a populist political insurrection in Holland, do not herald the end of the continent’s division. There is still much work to be done before Europe can march together….if it ever will.