BERLIN — No one in Brussels or Berlin expected this to happen. Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States of America. Germany, and Europe as a whole, will now have to get ready for someone in the White House who does not seem to share any of the same values that defined the German-American and European-American relationships in the decades since the end of World War II.
What exactly Trump wants and which values he does stand for, is still really anyone's guess. He did not formulate any concrete plans but rather hinted here and there at where this, his journey, might take us. We should assume, nonetheless that his “America First” rhetoric will also guide the new paradigm in regards to U.S. foreign policy.
In addition to that, no one, probably not even Trump himself, knows who he will choose to serve in his cabinet. He will not feel obliged to provide posts to the Republican establishment, which did not want him to be their candidate and includes many who publicly refused to support him. Like their counterparts around the world, the German diplomatic corps will most likely find themselves working with people they've never even heard of.
Trump's first meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel will be very interesting, to say the least. Merkel, it is known, cannot stand people like Trump. She decided to approach Russian President Vladimir Putin with a stern gaze — and most say that she has earned his respect. But Trump? He will be the leader of Germany's most important and trusted ally, and yet has no track record in international relations. Will he be impressed by a stern gaze?
Merkel is enough of a political realist to not refuse Trump outright, and was indeed quick to congratulate him on his victory. But she also found it necessary to point out the basis on which their mutual cooperation will have to be based, namely “democracy, freedom, respect for the law and the dignity of each human being, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, sex, sexual or political orientation.”
The chancellor will most definitely have to prepare herself for tough negotiations, starting with the future of NATO. The members of the military alliance are encouraged to spend 2% of their GDP on their armed forces budget. The U.S. invests 3.5% of its GDP, while as the biggest European country, Germany, spends just 1.3%.
Trump had said during the campaign that if the other NATO states don't stick to the 2% minimum, the U.S. would not come to their aid if the alliance's mutual defense agreement is invoked. This could sound like the beginning of the end for NATO, knowing that even Germany would never manage to push through a rise in military spending of 0.7%.
But the hard choices don't stop there, with all eyes on the European Union as well. Trump considers the EU to be utter nonsense, and cheered the UK's Brexit referendum victory.
Thus the EU, and Merkel in particular, will no longer be able to count on U.S. support for varying crisis spots in and around Europe — including Ukraine. In fact, quite the opposite, as Trump edges ever closer to Russia's Putin. It is quite possible that one of Trump's first official actions will be to recognize Crimea as part of Russia. If that were to happen, Merkel would look like she'd been duped. And not just in that case alone. Through very difficult negotiations with Russia she has been, and still is, trying to bring about a peaceful solution to the Crimean conflict.
President-elect Donald Trump getting off his plane on Oct. 12 in Lakeland, Florida — Photo: Loren Elliott/Tampa Bay TimesZUMA
President Obama had given her free rein, noting that Europeans should take more responsibility for what happens right outside their front door. But Merkel could always count on Obama's support. That, however, will no longer be the case.
On Syria, Trump will most likely steer clear, leaving Putin a free hand in this still raging conflict, including the Russian and Assad bombing of civilian areas. This would be an unraveling of the Western consensus to target ISIS and simultaneously prevent a new Russian dominance over Arab countries.
Of course, the Arab world also hears Trump's anti-Islamic rhetoric including his call for a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. This will make already difficult negotiations in that part of the world even harder.
Still Trump does claim a circle of friends in the Muslim world, which includes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom the president-elect had praised after the failed coup attempt in July.
U.S. relations with Iran could also prove to be dangerous with Trump at the helm, after the Republican has repeatedly criticized the nuclear deal that President Obama and European allies signed with Tehran.
Meanwhile, accords on free trade and climate change are also at serious risk of being scrapped by a Trump administration that sees them as drags on the American economy.
Such is the outline of Trump's “America first” strategy, getting the U.S. involved when he feels that direct national interests are in danger.
From a European point of view, the world is now facing a new axis of evil led by Trump, Putin and Erdogan. We may see French nationalist Marine Le Pen added to the club if she is elected France's president in May.