Chancellor Angela Merkel made a forceful pitch for Europe to play a more assertive role in global affairs as U.S. President Donald Trump dismantles the post-World War II order, setting the stage for a potential tense standoff at the Group of Seven summit this week.
The German leader again questioned the durability of trans-Atlantic relations by referring to eye-raising comments she made over a year ago in which she said that “the times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over.” Those words, spoken at a beer-tent election rally, were a reaction to Trump hectoring European leaders for not spending enough on defense at a North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels. Since then, more fuel has been added to the fire.
“That was my takeaway from the NATO summit, and in the meantime I continue to feel confirmed by my statement,” Merkel said in Munich on Wednesday, this time to a meeting of the European People’s Party, a grouping of center-right parties in the European Parliament.
In addition to the disruptive effects of the rift in NATO and Trump’s exit from the Paris global climate treaty, Merkel pointed to the fresh conflict over trade and the U.S. leader’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord last month.
“All of that confirms the assessment that the world is being reorganized,” Merkel told the EPP.
The German chancellor has taken a firmer stance leading up to the two-day G-7 gathering in Canada, which starts Friday. Earlier on Wednesday, Europe’s most experienced government leader vowed to challenge Trump on trade and climate, saying the lack of room for compromise means leaders may fail to agree on a final statement.
Trump’s “America First” doctrine shows that “we have a serious problem with multilateral agreements,” Merkel told German lawmakers, adding that failure to reach common ground could lead to the highly unusual step of host Canada issuing a concluding statement not agreed to by all participants.
With Trump’s unpredictable leadership and the U.S. turn toward isolationism, Merkel said that the European Union needs to hone its response to a raft of issues in an environment in which global institutions need to be “newly proven.”
The 28-member bloc — soon to lose the U.K. after the 2016 referendum to exit the EU — managed to grapple with a financial meltdown and the biggest influx of refugees since World War II only with “great effort,” Merkel said. “But we don’t have a sufficient foundation to confront crises of the future,” she added, underscoring her push for reforms.
To give the region more political heft, she called for joint action on security and migration, saying the bloc should “Europeanize” its presence on the United Nations Security Council. A rotating group of about 10 member states could work with veto-power France and the European Commission in order to “speak with one European voice” on the global stage, the chancellor said.
The effort involves resolving tensions over migration. The contentious issue has driven a wedge between states calling for asylum seekers to be distributed within the bloc and those — particularly in central and eastern Europe — insisting migrants must be kept out.
“I’ll tell you very openly and deeply seriously, if we don’t manage to form a common response to illegal immigration, then certain foundations of the European Union will be placed in question,” Merkel said, citing freedom of movement across the EU’s borders.