Coming on the heels of a highly contentious G7 summit in Canada at the weekend, the EU will implement counter-measures against US tariffs on steel and aluminium, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, while expressing her frustration that US President Donald J. Trump abruptly decided to withdraw support for a G7 communique that, amongst other things, called for law-based international set of rules for trade.
Merkel has proposed creating a forum to defuse escalating trade tensions with Trump’s White House, despite the G7 leaders’ failed attempt to Trump to back down from his decision to slap harsh tariffs on his own NATO allies on grounds that they pose a national security threat to the United States.
European leaders met ahead of the formal kickoff of the G7 summit where Merkel proposed a so-called “shared evaluation mechanism” on US trade, which was enthusiastically backed by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, according to a French official who briefed reporters on the meeting.
Trump’s comments on Twitter that the US is the one being treated unfairly sparked outrage in Europe, the UK, and Canada, which came to a head after the US president used the social media platform – his preferred method of venting often unfiltered and highly dubious claims against his domestic and international counterparts – that he was backing out of the joint communique and subsequently torpedoed what appeared to be a fragile consensus on the ongoing trade dispute between Washington and its main partners in the seven-decade-old Euro-Atlantic alliance.
“The withdrawal, so to speak, via a Tweet, is of course… sobering and a bit depressing,” Merkel said in a television interview after the summit. The summit did not mark the end of the Trans-Atlantic partnership between Europe and the US, Merkel said, but repeated her opinion that Europe could “no longer rely on its once close ally as a rational partner” under the Trump administration and “should take its fate into its own hands”.
According to Merkel, the European Union is, like Canada, preparing counter-measures against Trump’s steel and aluminium taxes, in line with regulations set by the World Trade Organisation’s rules, of which the United States is a founding member.
“We won’t let ourselves be ripped off again and again. Instead, we will also act accordingly,” Merkel said in an unusually combative tone. When asked if she was concerned that Trump could retaliate against EU counter-measures by imposing tariffs on European-made and designed cars, Merkel added, “First of all, we’ll try and see if we can prevent this… And then hope that the EU will respond again with the same unity.” She was referring to an agreement that the G7 leaders came to when they said the group would jointly review their trade ties and assess the scope of existing tariffs in order to avoid further trade barriers.
Germany’s influential centre-right leader said a tariff-free area among G7 allies would be an ideal outcome, but she made clear that any talks about this sort of trade bloc would have to include non-tariff barriers to trade as well as free access to public tenders, which Trump’s isolationist and protectionist supporters in the US have opposed.
Turning to Russia, Merkel said she could imagine Moscow re-joining the G7 format at some point, but not before Russian President Vladimir Putin fully implements the peace plan for Ukraine by withdrawing his occupation forces back across to the Russian side of the border. Russia was thrown out of what was then the G8 after it invaded and annexed Crimea – a strategic Black Sea peninsula – from Kyiv in 2014 and later fomented an ongoing war in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region that has killed nearly 11,000 people.
In an effort to quell fears that Italy’s new coalition government of Eurosceptic populists will demand an end to the EU’s sanctions against Russia, Merkel said she expected Rome to fall into line with the rest of the Member States and vote in favour of an extension of Brussels’ existing restrictions against Moscow.
Touching the thorny issue of Germany’s relatively low defence spending, Merkel acknowledged that Trump’s criticism was partly correct and that Berlin had to do more to reach NATO’s goal of spending to 2% of its economic output on defence, particularly with the start of a second Cold War with Russia.