This week is a busy one for President Trump, with two state visits scheduled one after another. French President Emmanuel Macron came to Washington on Monday and was treated as lavishly as possible. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is due on Friday, but her welcome will be quite modest in comparison to the one her French counterpart received.
The reason for the cold shoulder is simple. Ever since President Trump was elected, German public has been exasperated. He was considered a brash and uncultured person, with questionable morals and suspicions right-wing attitude, which is always a big no-no in German politics. Although Merkel didn’t offer new president her cooperation, she did it with few strings attached, something that Trump wasn’t going to forget: “I offer the next President of the United States close cooperation on the basis of these values.”
Germany’s relationship with the US has been like a wild roller-coaster ride in the last decade and a half. First, there were 8 years of despair and resentment during the George W. Bush era. Then Obama came and the entire German Volk fell in love with him. They even made a musical about him, called Hope – The Obama Musical. Just as Berlin was getting ready for another Democratic mandate in the White House, Donald Trump managed to upset Hillary Clinton and win the elections. This came as a nasty shock to Germans, and initial reactions were showing the resentment they felt for both Trump and his America First strategy.
For a while, there were suggestions that Germany should become a new leader of the free world, as America reclused itself from that role. But despite Merkle’s statements about Europe needing to step up and reduce its dependence on Washington, (“We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” as she put it), little was done to actually perform the role. While Germany certainly possesses economic might to influence the world, it deeply lacks two other key ingredients: a functioning military and a political will to use it. German journalist Clemens Wergin perhaps put it best when describing his country, which “talks the talk, but it hardly even tries to walk the walk” in order to defend its values on the world stage. That didn’t stop Germans from advocating a bigger role for their country, in light of Trump’s presidency which 79% of them considered a greater threat to world peace than Russian President Vladimir Putin.
France leadership took a completely different approach to the new American president. While Trump’s popularity is almost the same in both countries (14% vs 11%), French pragmatism has understood the fact that Washington is still the most powerful player in the international arena, regardless of who sits in the Oval Office and that maintain a functional relationship with President Trump is a key to European security and stability, something Germans have difficulty grasping. French ace in the sleeve is its president, Emmanuel Macron, a political novice (just like Trump) who managed to upset established political structures in his country (just like Trump) which his voters deemed deeply corrupt and unable to face modern challenges (just like Trump’s voters). In light of all this, it is no wonder that two leaders managed to create a stable relationship. Some would even go as far as to call it bromance and nicknamed Macron “The Trump Whisperer.”
Macron won Trump over by inviting him to be his guest on Bastille Day last year when all other major European leaders were thinking of ways to avoid him. This played heavily on Trump’s ego, and he was eager to return the favor during this week’s visit of the French president to Washington.
So far, it would seem that the French approach to the enigma that Trump represents is working far better. While Berlin acts like a spoiled brat, throwing a tantrum because their best friend lost the elections to the schoolyard bully, French just shrugged their shoulders and accepted the reality as is. American people put Donald Trump in White House and that is a fact of life. Rather than crying about it, Macron seems eager to find a way to deal with it.
During the eight years of Obama’s presidency, the majority of communications on relation Washington-Brussels passed first through Berlin. As it now stands, Paris will be taking over that role. It is up to Merkel to adapt to the new world order.