Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election came as a shock to many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Merkel has made no secret of her admiration for Hillary Clinton. “I admire her strategic thinking and her strong commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” Merkel told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview earlier this year. “Whenever I was able to work with Hillary Clinton, it was a great pleasure.”
But instead of congratulating her old friend Hillary, the German Chancellor was forced to congratulate Republican candidate Donald Trump on winning the U.S. presidential election.
Merkel didn’t even bother hiding her disappointment, issuing a carefully crafted statement that sounded more like a warning to President-elect Trump than a congratulatory message:
“Germany’s ties with the United States of America are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union. Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.”
Merkel’s words were well received by the establishment press, which had just suffered one of its worst defeats and was trying to portray Trump’s victory as an attack on Western values.
British historian Timothy Garton Ash described Merkel’s statement as “the most dignified response I have seen to Trump’s election” and concluded:
“The phrase “leader of the free world” is usually applied to the president of the United States, and rarely without irony. I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.”
Likewise, The New York Times and others also declared German Chancellor Merkel the new “leader of the free world” after Hillary Clinton couldn’t take up the role.
In this regard, Merkel’s job is “to defend Western liberal constitutionalism against the politics of resentment and anger,” as Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution put it.
There is a lot at stake in Germany’s 2017 federal election when Merkel seeks a fourth term in office.
“Should she lose, the loss would not just be Germany’s,” Stelzenmüller warned.
Still in shock after Brexit and Hillary Clinton’s defeat, large parts of the political and media establishment in the West are now rallying behind Angela Merkel to support her fight against “the politics of resentment and anger.”
However, the German people are not necessarily keen on renewing Merkel’s mandate. Especially the handling of the refugee crisis has cost her much popularity, but that is not the only reason why many Germans are resentful and angry.
Merkel has damaged three important pillars of German post-war politics: the German welfare state, European integration and German Ostpolitik.
Even before coming to power, CDU leader Angela Merkel actively supported the dismantling of the German welfare state, initiated by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with his controversial Agenda 2010.
In late 2005, Merkel then picked up where Schröder left off, personally thanking him in her government policy statement for implementing the Agenda 2010 reforms despite opposition.
A decade later, Germany is near the top of the inequality scale in terms of wealth distribution. The top 10% of German households own about 60% of the country’s wealth, whereas the lower half of households own just 2.5%.
Only a few people benefit from the booming economy while the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.
“Germany’s increasing wealth goes hand in hand with growing inequality,” concluded a report by Germany’s Joint Welfare Association Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband last year.
Merkel and her supporters often cite record low numbers of unemployment as a measure of success, neglecting the fact that record numbers of Germans are living in poverty. Unemployment has simply been turned into low-paying jobs, leading to a major increase in the number of people who are poor despite having a job.
The risk of falling into poverty has grown under Merkel, rising from 14% in 2006 to around 16% in 2015.
Her championing of neoliberal policies has done incredible damage in Germany and beyond.
Greece has been devastated and the European project has been damaged beyond repair. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently warned that Merkel’s obsession with austerity is strangling Europe, and that is hardly an overstatement.
To make matters worse, the German Chancellor has led Europe into a new Cold War.
Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany jettisoned the cooperative Ostpolitik in favor of a policy of confrontation towards Russia, which eventually culminated in a NATO-backed coup d’état in Ukraine.
Instead of preventing the United States from installing a rabid anti-Russian regime in Kiev, the Merkel-led government supported the move, provoking a predictable response from Russia.
Merkel’s treatment of Russia has been criticized by former Chancellors Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder as well as large parts of the population, to no avail.
Although the overwhelming majority of Germans opposed economic sanctions against Russia, the German government readily agreed to follow Washington’s lead.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden boasted later of “America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs.”
Thanks to Merkel, Germany is taking the biggest economic hit.
The French Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII) examined the impact of the diplomatic conflict on Western exports, estimating the total export loss at $60.2 billion between December 2013 and June 2015.
“Germany is losing the most exports in absolute terms, more than US$832 million per month,” according to the CEPII analysis. “In percentage terms, Germany is bearing 27% of the global lost trade, while other major geopolitical players like the United States (0.4%), France (5.6%) and the United Kingdom (4.1%) incurred much less.”
Chancellor Merkel’s subservience to Washington regarding the Ukrainian conflict came as no surprise. Putting American over German interests has been a hallmark of Merkel’s career, even before coming to power.
After SPD Chancellor Schröder announced that Germany would not support U.S. plans to invade Iraq, Merkel assured the U.S. establishment that “Schroeder doesn’t speak for all Germans.” She did her best to drum up support for the Iraq War, delivering a remarkable speech to the German Bundestag on September 13, 2002 that should have disqualified her from ever running for office.
Today, Merkel denies having supported the Iraq War in an attempt to distance herself from U.S.-NATO actions that have led to the refugee crisis. But her support of these actions is more apparent than ever.
In early 2012, just a few months after the United States and its allies launched a covert war on Syria, Germany began working on “The Day After.”
“The Day After” was the name of a secret project organized by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a government-funded think tank with close ties to the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), in close cooperation with the Orwellian-named United States Institute of Peace (USIP).
Around 45 Syrian opposition members “of all stripes,” including members of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Muslim Brotherhood, were flown into Berlin to “support a democratic transition in Syria.” Bringing the Islamist participants to the United States would have been difficult. This was one of the reasons why Berlin was chosen as the venue for the project.
Germany has supported the U.S.-led war on Syria in various ways, for example with a spy ship off the Syrian coast. German officials were convinced that Assad’s fall was only a matter of time. “We can be proud of our important contribution to the fall of the Assad regime,” a BND official told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in August 2012.
Four years later, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria and around 5 million Syrians have fled the country, many of whom are now seeking refuge in Germany.
The German Chancellor has been heavily criticized for her handling of the refugee crisis but her role in creating the crisis deserves close scrutiny as well.
Angela Merkel’s time in office has been disastrous – not just for Germany.
While the Western establishment is celebrating the new “leader of the free world,” many Germans are desperately looking for alternatives in the 2017 federal election. Merkel is already raising the specter of Russian interference, fake news, bots and trolls, underlining her concerns with regard to public opinion. Her hopes of winning another election rest on the lack of attractive alternatives, not her popularity.
Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here
 Patrick Donahue, “Merkel Lauds Clinton, Brushes Off Trump Attacks Over Refugees,” Bloomberg, 6 March 2016: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-06/merkel-lauds-clinton-brushes-off-trump-attacks-over-refugees.
 Anthony Faiola, “Angela Merkel congratulates Donald Trump — kind of,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/09/angela-merkel-congratulates-donald-trump-kind-of/.
 Timothy Garton Ash, “Populists are out to divide us. They must be stopped,” The Guardian, 11 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/11/populists-us.
 Constanze Stelzenmüller, “Is Angela Merkel the leader of the free world now? Not quite.,” Brookings Institution, 17 November 2016: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/11/17/is-angela-merkel-the-leader-of-the-free-world-now-not-quite/.
 Norbert Häring and Jan Mallien, “Germany’s Deep Wealth Divide,” Handelsblatt, 22 March 2016: https://global.handelsblatt.com/politics/germanys-wide-rich-poor-gap-477017.
 Rick Noack, “Germany’s economy is the envy of Europe. So why are record numbers of people living in poverty?,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/20/germanys-economy-is-the-envy-of-europe-so-why-are-record-numbers-of-people-living-in-poverty/.
 John Follain, “Austerity Only Benefits Germany and Destroys Europe, Renzi Says,” Bloomberg, 20 September 2016: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-20/austerity-only-benefits-germany-and-destroys-europe-renzi-says.
 Hardy Graupner, “Majority of Germans against anti-Russia economic sanctions,” Deutsche Welle, 7 March 2014: http://www.dw.com/en/majority-of-germans-against-anti-russia-economic-sanctions/a-17480983.
 Remarks by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the John F. Kennedy Forum, Harvard Kennedy School, 3 October 2014: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/03/remarks-vice-president-john-f-kennedy-forum.
 Matthieu Crozet and Julian Hinz, “Collateral Damage: The Impact of the Russia Sanctions on Sanctioning Countries’ Exports,” Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII), June 2016: http://www.cepii.fr/CEPII/en/publications/wp/abstract.asp?NoDoc=9213.
 Angela Merkel, “Schroeder Doesn't Speak for All Germans,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2003: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2003/02/20/schroeder-doesnt-speak-for-all-germans/1e88b69d-ac42-48e2-a4ab-21f62c413505/?utm_term=.29eec0667360.
 Speech by Angela Merkel to the German Bundestag, 13 September 2002: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/14/14253.pdf.
 Jörg Lau, “Assad-Gegner: Das neue Syrien kommt aus Wilmersdorf,” Die Zeit, 26 July 2012: http://www.zeit.de/2012/31/Syrien-Bundesregierung/komplettansicht.
 “Deutsches Spionageschiff hilft syrischen Rebellen,” Die Welt, 19 August 2012: https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article108682338/Deutsches-Spionageschiff-hilft-syrischen-Rebellen.html.
 “Merkel warns of Russian cyber attacks in German elections,” Deutsche Welle, 8 November 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/merkel-warns-of-russian-cyber-attacks-in-german-elections/a-36314197.
 Caroline Copley, “Merkel fears social bots may manipulate German election,” Reuters, 24 November 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-socialbots-idUSKBN13J1V0.