Trump election puts pressure on Merkel to take liberal lead

Published 9:44 am Thursday, November 17, 2016

BERLIN — Can Germany, the country that once unleashed Nazism, lead the free world?

The idea that the former home of militarism and nationalism could become a beacon for human rights and peaceful international cooperation within one lifetime may seem far-fetched.

But with outsider Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president and the rising strength of far-right and populist movements in Europe, some have suggested that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is left as the last powerful defender of liberal values in the West.

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Since taking office in 2005, Merkel has been a fixture of the international summit circuit, often providing the only dash of color in row upon row of grey suits.

She has outlasted most of her contemporaries — save for Russian President Vladimir Putin — and won plaudits for successfully steering her country through the turmoil of the global financial crisis.

Along the way, the trained physicist has deftly maintained relations with allies as they gained new leaders, including prime ministers and presidents whose positions were very different from her own.

Merkel navigated embarrassing moments, too, such as when U.S. President George W. Bush caused her to recoil in shock by playfully rubbing her neck at a G8 summit in 2006 and after former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was quoted making sexually explicit comments about her.

Merkel’s relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama hit a stumbling block when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been monitoring her cellphone, but both leaders weathered the strain.

Peter Tauber, the general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, noted that the uncertainty surrounding another country’s new administration usually makes people think “cooperation won’t work anymore.”

With the German chancellor having demonstrated otherwise, “there is a certain opinion that maybe it would be good if Angela Merkel would remain as an anchor of stability among the statesmen of the Western world,” Tauber said.

Merkel departed from the usual diplomatic script after Trump’s election last week by suggesting that respect for liberal values was a precondition for Berlin’s continued good relations with Washington. Many commentators saw her remarks as a sign that the chancellor was thrusting Germany into the forefront of international politics.