In an interview with the German daily Zueddeutche Zeitung ahead of the European elections Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Europe to unite and stand up to the US, Russia, and China. Amid the ongoing tussle with Washington over higher import tariffs and the US pulling out of the Iran deal, one of Europe’s most powerful politicians stated that “the old certainties of the postwar order no longer apply” expressing confidence that “Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world”.
She admitted that Europe appears weak since the US withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and pointed out that the euro is struggling to counter US sanctions because it is not the world’s leading currency. She, however, praised the fact that Europe is not divided on this issue like it was about the Iraq war.
Merkel pointed out that Germany, France, and Britain have a different approach than the US and admitted that it shares common interests with Russia and China.
However, speaking about China, Russia and the US, she also put Europe in opposition to them and said that they are “forcing” Europeans to find common positions, time and again, as cited by Newsweek.
“That is often difficult given our different interests. But we do get this done—think, for example, of our policy regarding the conflict in Ukraine”, Merkel noted, also bringing up a common strategy on Africa, as an example.
At the same time, she concluded that Europe’s political power doesn't yet match its economic capabilities. According to her, Europeans are moving forward gradually.
"We must have a realistic assessment of our capabilities and must strengthen them for the future. As far as defence cooperation is concerned, we are making good progress”, she added.
Commenting on Merkel's interview, Dr Ludwig Watzal, a journalist and editor in Bonn, Germany who runs a bilingual blog, "Between the lines", said that the chancellor belongs with "the most overrated politicians in Europe". The journalist said that her hubris comes to the fore in this interview, adding that Merkel's Europe can't even stand up to one of the three superpowers.
"There is no united European position on any issue. Europe is at loggerheads, and Merkel is the cause of it. Her irresponsible decision to flood Europe with refugees from all over the world led straight away to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the rise of populism in Europe. Europe, which Merkel talks about, is militarily and geostrategically irrelevant. After the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, the European Union promised an alternative trade system. Nothing had taken place. Europe is just rhetoric," Watzal said.
Meanwhile, Yannis Koutsomitis, a Belgium-based political and economic analyst, said that Angela Merkel has been calling for a united European Union front since May 2017, but this call has not materialised yet. He said that Europeans have different views and also interests with regards to the US, Russia and China, as Merkel acknowledged in the same interview. The analyst added that it sounds ironic that the German chancellor does not even agree with Manfred Weber, the lead candidate of her own party in the European elections, over the NordStream 2 pipeline, which will create a second energy stream between Russia and the EU.
"However, European Union unity is desirable. Not as a goal to make Europe more aggressive towards the global players, but as a means to promote multilateralism and to ease global tensions. It is very hard though to convince the individual European leaders to prioritize the common European interests over their respective national interests. After all, European leaders are only accountable to their national constituencies and not to common European one," Koutsomitis commented.
Relations between the US and the EU have been strained since last year following several decisions by the current American administration. The US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, which implied lifting anti-Tehran sanctions in exchange for Iran maintaining the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. Washington also re-imposed all sanctions and imposed new ones, with a stated goal of bringing down Iran's oil exports to zero despite opposition in Europe, which is now seeking a way to minimise the negative consequences for its business and security in the region.
Additionally, last year Donald Trump introduced higher steel and aluminium import duties which evolved into a tariff rift with Europe. The EU then subsequently slapped the US with counter-tariffs on its goods. Trump has for some time been mulling over the idea of using national security concerns as a justification to implement auto tariffs as high as 25%. The White House faces an 18th of May deadline to decide whether to slap duties on car and auto part imports. However, according to a source briefed on the talks, an administration official and two foreign officials cited by CNBC, the decision to impose auto tariffs could be delayed by up to six months as the administration risks sparking fresh global trade clashes amid the escalating conflict over trade with China.