A senior ally of Angela Merkel says Germany is worried that its relationship with the US is breaking down, amid growing tensions between the United States and one of its closest European allies.
Andreas Michaelis, Germany’s ambassador to the UK and a former foreign minister, on Monday afternoon said “shortcomings” had developed in Berlin’s relationship with Washington after weeks of growing tension.
Michaelis on Monday told an event hosted by the London-based think tank, the Institute for Government, that an “untidiness” had “crept into” the relationship between Merkel’s government and the White House.
“I want to be honest: it’s certainly not easy,” he said.
“With all the shortcomings in terms of information policy, and things being decided without consultation, this untidiness that has crept into the relationship is something that worries us.
“We’d like to make that extra step forward and say [to the US] ‘let’s work, let’s cooperate on the basis of trust and the quality of the relationship we have enjoyed in the past’.”
Michaelis was responding to a question from Business Insider about Trump’s decision to withdraw 9,500 troops from Germany later this year. Merkel’s government has said it was not informed of the decision before it was announced.
The comments came on the eve of the publication of a CNN report claiming that the president was “near sadistic” in his treatment of Merkel.
“Some of the things he said to Angela Merkel are just unbelievable: he called her ‘stupid,’ and accused her of being in the pocket of the Russians,” one source told CNN.
The report claimed that the details of phone conversations between Merkel and Trump were so potentially damaging that steps were taken to limit the number of people privy to them in her government.
Michaelis, was also critical of Trump’s approach to China, describing his hardline stance on Beijing as being too “simple” and “in the binary code of black and white.”
President Trump has led explicit calls for an investigation into China’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis and has blamed Beijing for the global pandemic. However, the European Union and member states, including Germany, have taken a more cautious approach.
Asked whether there was tension between Germany and the US over their approaches to China, Michaelis said: “We’ve had hours and hours of most interesting conversation with our transatlantic partners on the China question.
“And there are differences of interest, very clearly.
“If there is tension in the transatlantic partnership in regards to China, it is due to a policy on the US side which is flat foot on the accelerator.”
Michaelis added: “We [Germany] feel when it comes to China, you have to be very specific in the area of policy, and that creates a very complex network. This is, by definition, a European way of looking at things.
“It’s not black or white. It’s a lot of grey. And we have to be very careful.
“I am not saying we are overlooking the dangers that are implicit in dealing with a partner [China] that is not a democracy and does not share our values, like the US shares our values.
“But if the US has decided to have a relatively simple China policy, that exists in the binary code of black and white, that is certainly not the China policy that would fit the European interest — and that’s why we need to discuss it.”
He warned the White House that Germany would not be bullied into adopting a US approach.
“What’s totally out of place is us being suddenly urged or commanded to adopt certain elements of policy that are not decided in Europe, but decided in Washington,” Michaelis said.
Germany’s historic relationship with the US is under strain
Michaelis’ remarks come amid strain on Merkel’s relationship with the Trump administration.
Allies of Merkel have reacted angrily to Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Germany later this year.
Johann Wadephul, a senior figure in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, recently said: “We expect our leading ally to act as a model, with orientation and balance — not maximum pressure.”
“You don’t treat partners like this.”
Peter Beyer, Germany’s Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, said it was “completely unacceptable.”
EU officials were this month “furious” with the Trump administration, Bloomberg reported this month, after the president moved to shut Germany and the rest of the EU out of upcoming talks between Serbia and Kosovo.
German Chancellor Merkel has played a leading role in trying to broker reconciliation between the two countries.
However, the EU’s diplomat for Balkan negotiations, Miroslav Lajcak, reportedly learned about the US decision to exclude Europe while he was on his way to Kosovo, and was not invited to the meeting in Washington later this month.
Three officials involved in the negotiations told Bloomberg that the decision of the Trump administration to exclude the EU from the meeting ignored years of work by Merkel and others in deescalating tensions in the region.
Michaelis on Monday stressed that despite recent growth in tensions between the two countries, the US remained a key ally of Germany going forward.
“But what is easily underestimated, is the dependency which exists in terms of our security needs, on the US,” he said.
“And by the same token, our willingness to have this very special relationship.
“The US is our most important partner outside of the EU, no question. And that needs to be stressed before you answer [the question about Germany’s relationship with the US] in an honest way.”