ONE VOICE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a meeting of the European Parliament’s conservative EPP bloc in Munich, Germany, on June 6 2018. Picture: REUTERS
ONE VOICE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a meeting of the European Parliament’s conservative EPP bloc in Munich, Germany, on June 6 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Munich — German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a forceful pitch for Europe to play a more assertive role in global affairs as US President Donald Trump dismantles the post-Second World War order, setting the stage for a potential tense stand-off at the Group of Seven (G-7) summit this week.

The German leader again questioned the durability of transatlantic relations by referring to eye-raising comments she made more than a year ago in which she said that "the times when we could fully rely on others are, to some extent, over". Those words, spoken at a beer-tent election rally, were a reaction to Trump hectoring European leaders for not spending enough on defence at a Nato summit in Brussels. Since then, more fuel has been added to the fire.

"That was my takeaway from the Nato summit, and in the meantime, I continue to feel confirmed [in] my statement," Merkel said in Munich on Wednesday, this time to a meeting of the European People’s Party (EPP), a grouping of centre-right parties in the European Parliament.

In addition to the disruptive effects of the rift in Nato and Trump’s exit from the Paris global climate treaty, Merkel pointed to the fresh conflict over trade and the US leader’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord last month. "All of that confirms the assessment that the world is being re-organised," Merkel told the EPP.

The German chancellor has taken a firmer stance leading up to the two-day G-7 gathering in Canada, which starts one Friday. Earlier on Wednesday, Europe’s most experienced government leader vowed to challenge Trump on trade and climate, saying the lack of room for compromise means leaders may fail to agree on a final statement.

Trump’s "America First" doctrine shows that "we have a serious problem with multi-lateral agreements", Merkel told German lawmakers, adding that failure to reach common ground could lead to the highly unusual step of host Canada issuing a concluding statement not agreed to by all participants.

US isolationism

With Trump’s unpredictable leadership and the US turn toward isolationism, Merkel said that the EU needs to hone its response to a raft of issues in an environment in which global institutions need to be "newly proven".

The 28-member bloc — soon to lose the UK after the 2016 referendum to exit the EU — managed to grapple with a financial meltdown and the biggest influx of refugees since the Second World War only with "great effort", Merkel said. "But we don’t have a sufficient foundation to confront crises of the future," she added, underscoring her push for reforms.

To give the region more political heft, she called for joint action on security and migration, saying the bloc should "Europeanise" its presence on the UN Security Council. A rotating group of about 10 member states could work with veto-power France and the European Commission to "speak with one European voice" on the global stage.

Migration tensions

The effort involves resolving tensions over migration. The contentious issue has driven a wedge between states calling for asylum seekers to be distributed within the bloc and those — particularly in central and eastern Europe — insisting migrants must be kept out.

Citing freedom of movement across the EU’s borders, Merkel said, "I’ll tell you very openly and deeply seriously, if we don’t manage to form a common response to illegal immigration, then certain foundations of the EU will be placed in question."