Less than a month after taking up his post as US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, has caused a major uproar across the EU after an interview that the Trump Administration appointee had with right-wing media platform Breitbart news
U.S ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, made headlines in Europe after an interview with right-wing media platform Breitbart news in which he made clear that to use his position in Berlin to “empower anti-establishment far-right forces throughout Europe”.
“I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders. I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left,” Grenell said. He also proclaimed himself a “big fan” of Austria’s controversial far-right Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whom he hailed as “a Rockstar” while accusing the media of having a liberal bias against him.
Grenell’s comments have been widely condemned in both Europe and the United States as senior officials in the diplomatic community have said Grenell’s open endorsement for a particular political faction is unbecoming of an ambassador and breaks with the decades-old unwritten code of conduct for foreign service officers.
German politicians have demanded a clarification from Grenell over his comments, which they labelled as overt “interference” in domestic German politics. Former European Parliament President Martin Schultz noted that Grenell statements are more in the spirit of a “far-right colonial officer” than a diplomat.
Grenell had earlier drawn the ire of European governments for cryptically warning German companies to wind their Iranian operations down immediately after the US unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal late in May.
I know you are still quite new at your post, but it is not part of the job description of an ambassador to interfere in the politics of his guest country, Mr @RichardGrenell #thankyou https://t.co/Wi5uF9WjCO
— Lars Klingbeil (@larsklingbeil) June 4, 2018
US Democratic Senator Chris Murphy condemned Grenell for the overt “politicising of his post”, while the US’ former Ambassador to NATO and Greece, Nicholas Burns, expressed his regret from Grenell’s lack of decorum and his attempt to interfere in European domestic politics.
A cardinal rule of diplomacy is that Ambassadors must not interfere in the domestic politics of the countries to which they are accredited. https://t.co/l0rC5n6lH5
— Nicholas Burns (@RNicholasBurns) June 4, 2018
German Green Party member Omid Nouripour publically castigated Grenell as a neophyte who little understanding of his role as an ambassador, saying, “The comments made by Richard Grenell give the impression that the new US ambassador still hasn’t adjusted to his new role. At least the Russians make an effort not to be seen to be meddling in other countries’ affairs.”
The German foreign ministry on June 4 demanded that Breitbart provide evidence that Grenell actually made the comments while on-air. adding that if his comments prove to be authentic, Grenell will be asked to explain himself during his first visit to the German foreign ministry on June 7.
Traditionally, diplomats have strictly adhered to an unwritten code of ethics that includes an understanding that they will remain neutral and avoid partisan politics when it comes to the internal affairs of the countries where they are assigned. Their instructions as ambassador, in the case of the United States, are signed and endorsed by the US Secretary of State – a position that has been in flux since the resignation of Rex Tillerson this past spring and the appointment of former CIA director Mike Pompeo. Those orders are classified and remain confidential.
The US State Department under Trump has systematically been gutted of many of its most qualified staff as several departments have seen their budgets cut, while others have yet to fill positions that have remained vacant since the Barack Obama administration left office 18 months ago.
Grenell’s comments also come at a time when many in Europe are growing anxious over the number of visits by Trump’s right-wing populist ideologues. Trump’s former special advisor, Steven Bannon, was recently spotted in Italy travelled to lend his support to the anti-establishment, populist government that will now govern the EU’s third-largest economy. Bannon is known for his right-wing populism and embrace of white nationalism – a nativist ideology at once isolationist and anti-global, as well as nationalist and anti-immigrant.
Bannon is the former CEO of Breitbart and has openly admitted that white supremacist groups in the US used Breitbart’s platform as a soapbox and that he and Trump saw eye-to-eye on their hostility to international trade and global organisations.