You could not find a more sober, rational, and clear minded leader than Germany’s Angela Merkel. She alone has opened the doors of Germany to Syrian refugees, and willingly paid the political price for it. So her message of congratulations to Donald Trump upon winning the US election was quite different from most he received. It went like this:
Germany and America are bound by their values; democracy, freedom, the respect for the law, and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political conviction. On the basis of these values, I offer the future President of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation.”
Clearly, maintaining a good relationship with Germany – and by implication all of Europe – required some pretty basic values to be upheld. Whether the US under Trump’s leadership remains committed to these values remains to be seen. But Germany remains committed to the same values that America taught it after World War 2. Merkel is also underscoring the choice that the new president has in putting the North Atlantic alliance in question.
We are about to find out whether Angela Merkel – sober, conservative, principled, immigrant-supporting Angela Merkel – is now the primary world elected leader in sustaining such values.
It’s also President Obama’s final tour of Europe coming up. Omaba and Merkel now appear – in comparison to the leaders that are now emerging – like two of the last principled elected leaders standing. There are plenty of differences. They include Germany refusing to back NATO intervention in Libya a few years ago. Call that Germany partly vindicated. Then there was U.S. NSA surveillance of Angela Merkel’s own phone. Not good ground for a lasting compact.
But Russia has focused them together. Despite Russia interfering repeatedly in the domestic politics of Western countries, testing the limits of NATO, advancing proxy troops into the Ukraine and Georgia to stop further EU member expansion, and essentially taking over Syria’s government, neither European nor Transatlantic unity faltered. The great confrontation Putin expected, didn’t occur. US and EU responses and sanctions remains in lock-step.
Germany also joined the US led coalition against the Islamic State as early as September 2014. It also provided arms and equipment to Kurdish fighters, but also sent troops to Turkey’s border. Merkel responded to the mounting wave of European terrorist attacks at source, despite massive temptation and pressure for greater martial authority within Germany.
She also kept Germany open to refuges from mid 2015. Merkel defended this as a moral obligation, when most world and EU countries put up walls fast.
Neither Merkel nor Obama are idealists. But both have acted towards long term goals. Since the UK is exiting shortly, Germany is well and truly the leader of Europe. Germany under Merkel will remain greater in its moral authority than its middle-power status suggest, in the new world we face. I hope she is not the last.