Angela Merkel promised that Germany would “take on more responsibility” internationally in 2019, after a year in which Donald Trump’s vocal demands that Berlin spend more on defence have badly strained US-German relations.
In her New Year’s address, the chancellor said, without mentioning Mr Trump by name, that old certainties on the importance of international co-operation had “come under pressure”.
“In such a situation, we must once again stand up, argue and fight for our convictions — more than we have in the past,” she said. “And we must — in our own interests — take on more responsibility.”
She said Germany would take up a temporary seat on the UN Security Council in 2019, and also increase its spending on humanitarian aid and defence.
In addition, the chancellor said Germany would fight to make the EU more robust and would also strive for a “close partnership” with the UK, even after it leaves the EU.
Germany emerged this year as Mr Trump’s favourite punch bag, frequently coming under attack over its large current account surplus with the US, its relatively low defence spending and its support for a gas pipeline that Washington says will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian energy exports.
Germany, whose export success has been built on open borders and free trade, has also observed Mr Trump’s embrace of protectionist “America First” trade policies with increasing alarm.
But in her address, Ms Merkel stressed her continued commitment to the kind of multilateralism now scorned by the White House, saying only international co-operation could solve the global problems of climate change, migration and international terrorism.
“It’s in our own interests to resolve these issues and we can only do that when we take into account the interests of others,” she said.
Ms Merkel acknowledged that 2018 had been an “extremely difficult year politically”. It had taken nearly six months to form a government, following inconclusive elections to the Bundestag in 2017, and her “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats had been plagued by infighting. “We argued a lot and were too preoccupied with ourselves,” she said.
After a dismal performance by her conservative bloc in two regional elections in the autumn, Ms Merkel shocked the nation by announcing she was standing down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union, a party she has led for 18 years.
That triggered a succession race that pitted the CDU’s secretary-general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a moderate who was widely seen as Ms Merkel’s favoured successor, against two conservatives, Friedrich Merz, an old rival of Ms Merkel, and Jens Spahn, the federal health minister.
At a party conference in Hamburg in early December, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly beat Mr Merz in a second-round run-off. That puts her in pole position to succeed Ms Merkel when her fourth and final term as chancellor comes to an end in 2021.
An opinion poll published on Sunday found that Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer heads into 2019 as popular as Ms Merkel. The survey by pollster Emnid for Bild am Sonntag newspaper, in which those polled could vote for several politicians in descending order, showed 45 per cent of 507 voters said she should have the greatest impact on politics in the coming year, with Ms Merkel also on 45 per cent. Mr Merz came in at 33 per cent.
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