Germany Wants US Envoy to Explain Comments About Support For European Conservatives

James Carstensen | June 5, 2018 | 9:59pm EDT
Font Size
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell presents his credentials to German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin on Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (Photo: U.S. Embassy Berlin)

Berlin ( – Less than a month after taking up his post, U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell is being asked by his host government Wednesday to explain comments in a recent interview in which he has quoted as saying he wants to “empower” conservative leaders in Europe.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Christopher Burge told reporters that, during a meeting scheduled for Wednesday with the ministry’s state secretary, Andreas Michaelis, Grenell would be asked to “explain how he wants his statements to be understood.”

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said he had “taken note” of Grenell’s comments, and expects him to explain himself at Wednesday’s meeting. “There will certainly be a lot to discuss,” Maas told reporters on Tuesday.

Some German politicians are calling for Grenell’s expulsion, after he was quoted by Breitbart London as saying, “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”

“I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left,” he was quoted as saying.

Grenell’s comments, along with a recent invitation to conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to meet in Berlin on June 13, have prompted criticism that he is straying from ambassadorial norms.

(Kurz has been one of the strongest advocates for securing the European Union’s external border, and has challenged German Chancellor Angela Merkel by rejecting the controversial E.U. migrant quota system.)

Under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats “have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs” of the host nation.

“We expect the U.S. ambassador to represent the interests of his native country and refrain from any involvement in political opinion-forming in Germany,” said Johann Wadephul, deputy chairman of Merkel’s Christian Democrat/Christian Social Union parliamentary group, with responsibility for foreign and security policy.

“Anything else would be an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs,” he said.

Some critics went further.

“If the federal government takes the democratic sovereignty of our country seriously, it should not invite Grenell to have a coffee, but expel him immediately,” Sahra Wagenknecht, parliamentary group leader for the Left Party, told the Welt.

“It is definitely not the ambassador's job to interfere in the political affairs of the host country,” tweeted Liberal Democrat foreign policy spokesman Bijan Djir-Sarai, while the former leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), Martin Schulz, voiced a similar view.

“If a German ambassador in Washington said, ‘I’m here to strengthen the Democratic Party,’ he would be thrown out immediately,” Schulz told the Tagesschau daily.

Grenell responded to the allegations, in a tweet.

“The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous,” he said. “I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority – those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump.”

Ambassadors have a right to express their opinion,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a daily press briefing Tuesday, when asked about Grenell.

“They’re representatives of the White House, whether it’s this administration or other administrations, and we hear them voicing their opinions. And they’re sometimes opinions that people may or may not like. And there is a right to free speech as well, so I want to highlight that. Regardless of whether or not you all like it, sometimes these things are what ambassadors say.”

“We’re not supporting any political party. That’s not what we do,” Nauert said. “We support democracy, we support countries figuring out for themselves who they want to vote in for office.”

“I think what Ambassador Grenell was doing was merely highlighting that there are some parties and candidates in Europe who are doing well right now,” she added.

Former U.S. foreign service officer Michael Montgomery said “most foreign affairs experts would consider Grenell’s recent comments as rising to the level of interference in Germany’s internal affairs.”

He added that “most” would also view Merkel’s government to be well within its rights to declare him persona non grata.

Actual expulsion was unlikely, conceded Montgomery, who worked for the U.S. foreign service in the 1980s and now provides funding and economic advice to nonprofits.

“More likely, the Merkel government will ask Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo to shut him up or call him home to stay,” he said.

mrc merch