What’s Next for Transatlantic Ties: The Donald Trump Effect on German Politics

Written by | Monday, September 25th, 2017

With Germany’s federal election coming up later this week, the country’s campaign is coming to its end. In addition to the usual slogans, discussions and rallies all over country, this year’s campaign is marked by the uncertainty created by US President Donald Trump and his administration, especially regarding the future of transatlantic relations. What is clear so far is the fact that Donald Trump has become a very unpopular political figure in Germany, which has resulted in a plummeting confidence in American leadership.

This has, however, little to do with the polling fortunes. Regardless of who will become the next German chancellor, Berlin will have to remain the backbone of the transatlantic partnership and cooperate with Washington where interests align. How this will play out will have a major influence on the future of the mutual ties. Most German political leaders are aware of the essential role the United States has played in supporting the European project and modern-day Germany and they also appreciate the key part the United States plays in upholding international order.

Therefore, despite the strong disagreement with many Trump’s policies and opinions, there is no alternative but to cooperate with his administration. On the contrary, it is likely that the new chancellor will be even more proactive in explaining his/her views to the American President. This will particularly be true if Angela Merkel is reelected, as she would likely take upon herself the role of ensuring that the transatlantic ties would not fall apart. She would also be expected to attempt to improve the current sober mood between European capitals and Washington.

The future engagement with Donald Trump will have to be conducted on an issue-by-issue basis. Notable areas of cooperation will include the Ukraine crisis, counterterrorism efforts, broader security and defense issues as well as the NATO. For Germany, the Ukraine crisis will remain on top of the agenda, hence any signs that Washington will want to step up its own direct role and try to resolve the conflict are welcome in Berlin. Intelligence sharing and fight against terrorism is not a new issue, so both sides are expected to expand their mutual cooperation, which German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere described as “excellent”.

In the past, Germany has not been afraid of voicing disagreements with Washington and it should definitely continue doing so in the near future as well. The difference with the Trump administration is that now Berlin and Washington are at loggerheads over many more issues. On those matters that Germany feels strong about – global trade, climate change, the Iran nuclear agreement and the US sanctions against European energy companies – the next German chancellor may be expected to voice disagreement strongly.

The arrival of Donald Trump in the White House has stirred discourse on the fundamental issues and the future of transatlantic relations across Europe. However, the actual impact of Donald Trump’s presidency on foreign policy appears to be modest. Still, the long list of disagreements across the Atlantic means that Donald Trump’s posturing will undeniably influence how Berlin is going to position itself towards its North American partner. The upcoming election will also surely strengthen Germany’s confidence to speak out against the White House in times of disagreement while boosting its engagement efforts with Washington whenever possible.

‘The Trump Effect on Germany’s Election and Transatlantic Ties’ – Analysis by Erik Brattberg and Viola Meyerweissflog – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

(The Analysis can be downloaded here)


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