Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Angela Merkel’s Lament

A difference on climate doesn’t mean a U.S. retreat from Europe.

By Review & Outlook
The Wall Street Journal
May 30, 2017

Angela Merkel’s declaration on the weekend that Germany and continental Europe will have to depend more on themselves is being portrayed as the Donald Trump -inspired end of American leadership in Europe. But if that’s true, and we have heard this dirge before, the erosion of U.S. leadership hardly began with Mr. Trump. It started under Barack Obama, whose failure to lead was too often reinforced by his main partner in Europe, Mrs. Merkel.

“All I can say is that we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands,” the German leader told a crowd during a re-election campaign event at a beer tent in Bavaria. “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.”

That was widely perceived as the German Chancellor’s reaction to last week’s NATO and G-7 summits, when the new U.S. President challenged NATO members to spend more on defense and refused to sign on to the climate-change policies of the other six leaders.

Mrs. Merkel seemed especially miffed about Mr. Trump’s decision not to embrace the Paris climate accord that Mr. Obama signed in his final year as President. “The whole discussion about climate has been difficult, or rather very unsatisfactory,” Mrs. Merkel told reporters. “Here we have the situation that six members, or even seven if you want to add the [European Union], stand against one.’

But wait. Since when is a difference of opinion on climate policy a signal of U.S. retreat from Europe? And why is Mr. Trump’s reluctance to sign on to Paris—he says he’ll decide whether to leave the accord this week—a failure of leadership? Mrs. Merkel’s comments suggest that she is most upset because Mr. Trump declined to follow her lead on climate.

Mr. Trump should decline if he wants to fulfill his campaign promises to lift the U.S. economy. Mrs. Merkel’s embrace of green-energy dogmas has done enormous harm to the German economy. She reacted to the Fukushima meltdown by phasing out nuclear power, and her government has force-fed hundreds of billions of dollars into solar and wind power that have raised energy costs. As Der Spiegel once put it, electricity is now a “luxury good” in Germany.

It’s not surprising that Mrs. Merkel and the Europeans should want to shackle the U.S. with similarly high energy costs, and Mr. Obama was happy to oblige. But Mr. Trump was elected on a promise to raise middle-class incomes, and domestic energy production is essential to that effort. Mrs. Merkel doesn’t care if Mr. Obama committed the U.S. to Paris without any Congressional approval, but Mr. Trump has to take that into account.

The U.S. natural-gas fracking revolution also has the benefit of reducing fossil-fuel emissions by reducing reliance on coal. To the extent that U.S. energy production can supplant Russian natural-gas supplies to Europe and keep the price of oil low, it also undermines Vladimir Putin’s influence at home and abroad.

As for fading U.S. leadership in Europe, we wish the German Chancellor had prodded Mr. Obama to do more after Russia snatched Crimea from Ukraine. We’re still waiting for the Germans to support arming Ukraine to impose higher costs on Russia’s military incursions. Then there’s the failure of the U.S. and Europe to stop the Syrian civil war, which contributed to Brexit by sending millions of refugees into Europe without border controls.

Mr. Trump is undiplomatic, and sometimes rude, as he showed when he shoved aside Montenegro’s prime minister at the NATO summit. This behavior is embarrassing for most Americans, and Mr. Trump’s lack of basic knowledge about the economics of trade is dangerous.

But then Mr. Trump has abandoned his campaign bluster that NATO is obsolete, and he signed onto the G-7 communiqué language vowing to resist protectionism. The President’s challenge to Europe to spend more on its own defense may be precisely the leadership the alliance needs. That’s especially true for Germany, which spends a mere 1.2% of GDP on the military and whose public takes an increasingly pacifist view of global conflict, in contrast to the British and French.

Mrs. Merkel’s German opponents claim she is too accommodating to Mr. Trump, and her weekend remarks are in part a bow to that domestic politics. She is generally pro-American and an admirable leader. Mr. Trump shouldn’t overreact to her weekend comments any more than Europe should overreact to some of his. The Atlantic alliance might even benefit from more such candid talk on both sides.

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