German FM in Washington to Promote ‘German American Friendship’ Amid Polls Pointing to Troubled Ties

James Carstensen | October 3, 2018 | 11:03pm EDT
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German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas meets with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department on October 3, 2018. (Photo: State Department/Flickr)

Berlin ( – Germany’s foreign office has launched a year-long initiative aimed at ushering in improved ties with the U.S., which polls indicate have declined markedly since President Trump took office in 2016.

“Even if we do not always agree politically: For us Europeans, the U.S. remains the most important ally,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is visiting Washington, said in a tweet Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Maas attended the opening reception for the German-American Friendship Year, subtitled “Wunderbar Together,” which will run over 1,000 exhibitions and events across the U.S. involving more than 200 partners.

Maas met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and was also scheduled to meet with National Security Advisor John Bolton, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, and members of Congress to discuss issues including Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, and Russia.

Relations between the longstanding allies have been strained since Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal with Iran. The E.U. responded to the latter move by updating laws to insulate European firms from U.S. sanctions.

Now, however, Maas has signaled that Germany could be mulling taking a less retaliatory approach to an unpredictable American president.

“Many think that they can ‘wait out’ Trump, but this belief is a mistake,” Maas remarked in another tweet. “In transatlantic relations, there are structural changes, which will be still in place even after Trump, so Germany and Europe have to adjust to them strategically.”

The comments come a month after a meeting between U.S. and German economic advisors aimed at boosting trade ties. White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said the two sides had “agreed to enhance economic growth and market access.”

Joshua Stowell, editor of Global Security Review, said Germany is taking a pragmatic approach.

“From a defense and security perspective, Germany is heavily reliant on both the U.S. and NATO for its security,” he said, adding that Maas’ statements were a positive signal for relations going forward.

“There are significant areas for cooperation, and there will be a decreased amount of disagreements within [Chancellor Angela] Merkel’s cabinet over policy towards the U.S.,” Stowell said.

“Both sides benefit from free trade,” said Bill Wirtz, a policy analyst for Consumer Choice Center, an international nonprofit that monitors regulatory trends. “President Trump has said previously that he advocates against tariffs and no-tariff barriers. After all, tariffs hurt consumers on both ends.”

The increased engagement effort comes amid polls indicating a declining image for the U.S. in Germany (and elsewhere).

A Pew Research Center survey published on Monday found that 30 percent of German respondents retain a favorable view of the U.S., a five point drop from last year. Opinions of China, Britain, France, Russia, India, and Germany were also surveyed, with only Russia getting a lower rating than the U.S. (27 percent).

Merkel enjoyed the highest confidence among the world leaders featured (Merkel, Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping.)

Of the total 26,000 people across 25 surveyed countries, 52 percent said they trusted Merkel in world affairs, compared to 27 percent who said the same of Trump.

Trump fell even below Putin, who scored a 30 percent confidence rating among respondents.

A trade survey published last Friday by the American Chamber of Commerce Germany found that while 82 percent of respondents view overall economic relations between Europe and the U.S. as “strong” or “very strong,” 42 percent of German companies polled said the U.S. has become a less attractive trade partner.

“Businesses need reliability, transparency and, above all, a roadmap to resolve the E.U.-U.S. trade conflict,” the chamber’s president, Frank Sportolari, said in a statement.

“Germany and the U.S. have mutually-aligned interests in spite of the current confusion in Washington,” said Robin L. Allen, partner at global investment firm Esperance, alluding to trade disputes and strained bilateral relations.

He said the success of the “Wunderbar Together” initiative will hinge upon the people involved.

Allen noted that Germany could leverage its seasoned diplomats such as recently appointed Ambassador to the U.S. Emily Haber.

“She was very impressive on her last California visit,” he said, describing Haber as “a diplomat’s diplomat.”

“People like this have a large role to play in the coming decades.”

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