US President Barack Obama pays a farewell visit on Thursday to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen by some as the new standard bearer of liberal democracy since the election of Donald Trump.
On the last leg of his final European tour as president, Obama will try to ease fears about the future of the transatlantic partnership and thank Merkel for her friendship during his two terms, White House officials said.
In a joint article to coincide with his arrival in Germany, Obama and Merkel appealed for ongoing cooperation on the basis of shared principles to fight climate change, ensure collective defence within Nato, and promote free trade.
The two leaders never mention Trump by name. But their statements appeared to serve as a point-by-point refutation of some of the president-elect’s most contentious foreign policy pledges.
They defended aid for refugees “because we know it is our treatment of those most vulnerable that determines the true strength of our values.” They hailed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation — which Trump has threatened to pull back from — as a cornerstone of peace. They presented the German-US relationship as a symbol of shared progressive Western values.
Our countries share a joint responsibility to protect and preserve our way of life,” the two leaders wrote in the German weekly Wirtschaftwoche. “It is in this spirit that we are working hard to ensure that international law and norms are respected around the globe — which remains a prerequisite for stability and prosperity.”
They strongly argued in favour of pursuing a free trade deal between the United States and the European Union despite Trump’s vows to upend it after years of talks. They also heralded the Paris Agreement to cut global emissions — from which Trump has threatened to withdraw — as a deal that “gives the world a framework for the common protection of our planet.”
Despite earlier reservations, several global leaders appear to be rushing to congratulate Trump — signalling either a pragmatic willingness to cooperate with the president-elect or a desire to size him up. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, for instance, is rushing to New York for an early meeting with Trump.
But Merkel, considered the EU’s most influential leader, is taking a significantly cooler approach, continuing to align herself with Obama even as he exits the global stage. She has treated Trump with caution so far. Following his surprise victory, Merkel issued a carefully worded congratulations signalling her desire to cooperate, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views.”
That is in part because, for Obama, Merkel is something a political soul mate. No other world leader so closely matches Obama’s ideology of tireless diplomacy with an emphasis on human rights, tolerance and equality.
Sharing similar temperaments, Merkel and Obama forged a friendship that helped broker several major agreements — including the deal on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Although she hails from what in liberal Germany is considered to be the centre-right, Merkel is seen as emerging after Obama a leading global voice for progressive values, including equality, renewable energies and tempered diplomacy in the face of conflict.
Sources: AP, Washington Post