US President Doland Trump has finished his tour over Europe and is to return home after a series of long discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Media and officials report that there is a growing dispute between Merkel and Trump, who is accusing Germany of unfair trade relations and neglecting its membership in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).
Trump’s tweet, declaring German policies “very bad” for the US and vowing to change the situation, came a few hours after the German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, declared that the administration’s “short-sighted policies” were weakening the west.
The discord between the Trump administration and Berlin is just the sorest point in increasingly troubled transatlantic relations, aggravated by the president’s European trip last week. Since then, simmering tensions have boiled over in a public spat.
Trump’s omission of a clear commitment to collective defense and his harangue of European leaders for their military spending at a NATO summit on Thursday exposed the extent of the rift. A dramatically bad week for western cohesion was capped by his refusal to join six partner states at the G7 summit in Sicily in a commitment to the Paris agreement to combat climate change.
“I thought it was the least effective visit of any American president to Europe since the 1940s,” Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state of for political affairs, said. “I couldn’t think of another visit that was so fraught with difficulties, deep substantial division, disregard and disrespect.”
In the summit’s wake, Angela Merkel declared that Europe would have to “take our fate into our own hands” and could not longer depend on leadership from the US.
Trump had been restrained in his use of Twitter during the European tour, but he released a salvo of inflammatory tweets coming out of the Memorial Day long weekend. His tweet aimed at Berlin said: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”
The president was referring to a commitment made by US allies in 2014 to spend 2% of their GDP on defense. German currently spends 1.2% on its military. That figure is gradually increasing but German leaders acknowledge it is unlikely to reach 2% by the target date in 2024. Merkel argues that spending on development aid and crisis prevention should be included in the figure.
Germany does maintain a substantial trade surplus with the US, driven by its export-led growth. But German officials have repeatedly pointed out to the Trump administration that when it comes to the car industry – which seems to be the focus of the president’s ire – the German firms BMW and Mercedes make most of their cars for the US market in the US, employing thousands of workers and leading US auto exports to the rest of the Americas.