The shock election of Donald Trump as US president has forced greater responsibility for defending Western values and interests onto German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s shoulders, analysts say, with some even crowning her the new “leader of the free world”.
While the last decade has been defined by Britain, France, Germany and the US showing a largely united front on issues ranging from NATO affairs to defence of basic freedoms, the coming four years may present a more fragmented picture.
During his campaign Trump signalled a protectionist and anti-immigration stance, while Britain is preoccupied with securing its future outside the European Union after June’s stunning referendum vote to exit the bloc.
France’s President Francois Hollande is grappling with record low ratings ahead of next May’s election that could see far-right Marine Le Pen reaching the second round run-off vote.
Merkel, after 11 years at the helm, now looks increasingly like the only bulwark of stability and liberal freedom among Western allies.
“Merkel… has suddenly become the most important leader of the free, democratic and liberal world,” said the left-leaning TAZ daily.
The historian and columnist Timothy Garton Ash agreed in an editorial for Britain’s Guardian newspaper: “I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.”
Rather than visit Britain — a natural stop for any US leader given the two countries’ special relationship, US President Barack Obama is travelling Wednesday to Berlin on his last official trip to Europe, in what almost seems like the passing of a baton to Merkel.
Ahead of the visit, Obama said Merkel “has probably been my closest international partner these last eight years”.
Merkel’s striking message to Trump after his victory was not lost on observers — where her peers simply pledged close ties, she tied them to democratic values.
She said that any “close cooperation” must be on the basis of the “values of democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law and human dignity, regardless of origin, skin colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political belief”.
The remarks indicated the German leader is likely to accept — perhaps grudgingly — the mantle of “leader of the real, remaining West and remind Trump of values”, said Die Welt daily.
“She is more than ever the woman who is countering men like Russian President Vladimir Putin or Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” said the TAZ.