German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched a passionate defence of the European Union and a global multilateral approach, warning that nationalism was at the root of the crises of the 20th century which led to the creation of the contemporary world order and its institutions.
“This generation that was born after the Second World War have to prove that we have truly learned the lessons,” said Merkel, who is 63, compared with the 71-year-old Donald Trump and 64-year-old Xi Jinping.
Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, set out a case that the European Union was an exemplar — however much troubled — of a cooperative approach to tackling global problems which were far larger and fast moving than any one country could deal on its own.
“We have to seek multilateral answers and not a unilateralist protectionist course,” she said in remarks which are likely to be seen as clear references to the “America First” rhetoric and actions of U.S. President Donald J. Trump who will address World Economic Forum (WEF) on Friday.
Brexit was ‘regrettable”
Merkel, who is emerging from weeks of negotiations to create a new German government after inconclusive elections, told the 3,000-odd political, business and civil society leaders in Davos at the WEF, that she regretted the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to leave the European Union and wanted a good partnership with Britain in the future. At the same time she made clear Britain would miss the benefits of EU membership as the union became more effective economically and diplomatically.
“We all very much regret the fact that the United Kingdom will not be a member of the European Union for much longer…,” she said, speaking through a translator. “For Germany but also for all of us we want to have a good partnership with Britain in the future…”. However, the EU would not move on fundamental rights such as freedom of movement in its negotiations with Britain.
“It’s in their hands how close they want this partnership to be. We will be very open minded…,” she said.
The U.S. “concentrate on themselves”
Trump’s agenda, seen as isolationist, hangs over the event. It is counter to the whole Davos philosophy given his expressed doubts about globalism and his actions against multi-lateral agreements he believes to be bad “deals” for the United States. Every speech by a major leader ahead of his arrival on Thursday is being pored over for signals directed at him. Earlier on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump just wanted deals that were “reciprocal” and to discuss how his tax cuts and other measures were good for the United States and the rest of the world.
“Protectionism is not the proper answer…,” Merkel said a day after the U.S. imposed new tariffs on appliances and solar energy equipment from China and elsewhere (Bloomberg).
Merkel struck a conciliatory tone towards Washington, referring specifically to the recent tax cuts, while defending the multilateralist approach: “I don’t think we should complain about the United States.”
Other key elements from Merkel’s speech:
- On the Paris agreement on climate change: “We already had to draw our conclusions without the United States.”
- On German economic performance and adaptation: “We are in a very good situation — we have had growth for 11 consecutive years…(but)…we are not leading the way in other areas of the digital world.”
- On European Union priorities after the Brexit vote: “With Macron there is a new impetus,” she said of the French President Emmanuel Macron who will speak later on Wednesday.
- On the dominance of Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others in the data economy: “It is the big American companies that have access to data — the raw material of the 21st century. The question of who owns that data will decide whether democracy…and economic progress can be combined.”
- On historic reliance on the United States diplomatically before an EU foreign policy: “We quite often relied on the United States but now they concentrate on themselves and on their own security. That teaches us a lesson….we need to take our destiny into our own hands.”
For rolling coverage of Davos see Destination Davos