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Merkel to be the new ‘leader of the free world’?

  • Published at 10:36 pm November 16th, 2016
Merkel to be the new ‘leader of the free world’?
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.

Countering Putin or Erdogan

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. When most European countries were busy shutting their doors to refugees fleeing war in predominantly Muslim countries, Merkel let in nearly 900,000 people last year -- a stance that Trump branded “insane”.

‘Can’t do this alone’

Trump, who pledged to deport millions of undocumented migrants from the US, made anti-immigrant policies a key plank of his campaign. And few expect him to take the lead in countering Putin, given his open praise for the Russian strongman. If Trump makes good on his promises to rip up deals on free trade, climate change and Iran’s nuclear programme, as well as reconsider protection for Nato allies that haven’t paid their dues, it could spell the end of the United States’ post-World War II role as the guarantor of world peace. Stefani Weiss, an expert on European integration and foreign policies at the Bertelsmann Foundation, said the US had started to retreat as “world police” under Obama and cede more responsibility to Europe. It remains to be seen how effectively Merkel can push her agenda on the global stage, if Trump, as leader of the world’s biggest economy, adopts contrary policies on migration, climate change and sanctions targeting Russia.
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