There will be no state dinner. No military fanfare. No high fashion, high hats or high heels. But there is still a strong chance of an awkward handshake.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be visiting the White House on Friday. After the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the state visit of French President Emmanuel Macron, Merkel’s will be a staid and sombre affair.
She has a paltry 20 minutes for a one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office before a 90-minute lunch. Then it’s straight to a 30-minute perfunctory presser. In all, Merkel will have little more than two hours with President Trump, slotted in just before the weekend starts.
Macron and Merkel have used vastly different strategies to establish a relationship with Trump and both are on display this week in Washington.
But the goal is the same: to bring Trump around to re-engaging with Europe — and the world — on everything from the Iran nuclear deal to preventing tariffs, and in doing so, avoid triggering a trade war.
German magazine Der Spiegel featured a typically on-point cover this week: A blazing image of Trump’s face, with Macron brandishing a fire-extinguisher and a cheeky wink, while a cowering Merkel wrings her hands in the corner. The Headline Asks: “Who Will Save The West?”
So what works better? Macron’s charm, or Merkel’s staid, no-nonsense approach?
There is no doubt that Merkel and Trump lack chemistry and the relationship got off to a rocky start, points out this week’s Der Spiegel cover story:
”Trump has not forgotten that Merkel combined her congratulations after his election with a small prediction/lecture to keep values such as democracy, freedom and human dignity in mind,” it states. “Now Macron is his friend, and Merkel remains the governess.”
Another way to see this: Macron and Merkel may be playing a complementary double act. Macron’s carrot to Merkel’s stick. Le Good Cop versus Die Bad Cop.
“Why in the world would Merkel visit Washington DC so shortly after this grand Macron visit? Don’t forget, Macron was here to meet with Merkel before the visit to coordinate on the Iran deal as well as how the EU should discuss optional trade sanctions. It’s an effort to be a united front,” says Sudha David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund. “I think Trump does begrudgingly respect Merkel. Because she’s a winner. She’s been in office for 12 years. He respects and recognizes her authority.”
The key issues that the two European leaders are trying to talk Trump around on are Iran and trade.
Trump has threatened to pull out of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that offers Iran desperately needed sanctions relief in exchange for a halt to its nuclear weapons program. Trump has called it “insane” and a “bad deal” that does little to curb Iran’s military meddling in the region or human rights abuses at home.
Angry at the Trump turnaround in US policy, Iran has threatened to resume its nuclear program while Europe is trying to keep both sides cool, desperate to prevent an arms race in the Middle East.
During his White House visit, Macron suggested that there may be a way to create a “new deal” but “we should not tear apart the JCPOA and have nothing else.” This leaves it to Merkel to follow up with Trump and square the circle on this diplomatic dilemma.
On trade, Merkel is at a distinct disadvantage. Germany’s tremendous trade surplus with the US ($65 billion and counting) is a major bone of contention with President Trump. But the EU is anxious to make sure that the White House extends a waiver on US imports of European steel and aluminum. On this, Merkel may be willing to offer concessions on lowering the EU’s own car tariffs, while Macron may not.
Yes, Merkel may be the unglamorous follow-up to Macron’s charm offensive, rolling up her sleeves to get work done. But the EU’s top leaders may also be executing a calculated tag-team effort to keep President Trump onside.