On Sunday, against the backdrop of analyses on President D. Trump’s visit to Asia and Europe, a visit that had just ended, its final stage being his presence at the G-7 summit in Taormina, Sicily – where several disagreements between the EU and the U.S. were revealed –, German Chancellor A. Merkel’s statement fell like a lightning bolt. Because social media networks all over the world turned red hot, we present Merkel’s statement as transcribed by Richard Haas on his Twitter account, the brief “translation” of the influential Council on Foreign Relations analyst being immediately picked up by other reputed analysts from both shores of the Atlantic: “Merkel saying Europe cannot rely on others & needs to take matters into its own hands is a watershed-& what US has sought to avoid since World War Two.”
Given the author’s credibility, the Haas “translation” of the German leader’s statement was immediately retweeted by more than 1,000 of his followers, 100 replies being registered in just three hours. Because of the spontaneity of these immediate comments, we will refer to them to suggest the impact on public opinion – which is expected to considerably amplify in the following period –, stating from the start that we are facing an unprecedented event in the history of the transatlantic bond formed almost 70 years ago. At the same time, it’s noteworthy that, as happens in such circumstances, the readers’ comments are situated on both ends of the assessment scale of the said event.
Namely, to give an example, they range from “A sad day for America. Trump handed Russia a gift and thumbed his nose at our friends” and “Presidents for 70 years from Truman to Obama have carefully nourished partnership & friendship with the whole of Western Europe” to “About time Richard. Long overdue that Germany & Japan start paying for the maintenance of the liberal international order” or “Well, this Germany seems more intent on suicide than anything they were concerned about post-WW2.”
In general, the readers’ comments are focused particularly on the significance of Angela Merkel’s statement, but they similarly express opinions on the causes and consequences of Berlin’s position in the near and distant future. Regarding the significance of the attitude undertaken by Germany’s leadership, it’s being plainly said that the event itself signifies the end of the liberal order installed at the end of the Second World War. “A complete destruction of the post WW2 world order by the buffoon” – one of the readers states. And another adds that this means, at the same time, the end of America’s systemic hegemony: “Definitely America lost the leadership of the world. Very sad”; another adds: “A unified Europe has been abandoned by Great Britain and threatened by the US. In realpolitik going it alone makes sense,” his inference regarding the simultaneity of the Anglo-Saxon powers leaving the Old Continent. Another reader notes that Germany positions itself at the helm of the “free world”: “it is now the EU (Germany) that leads the free world.”
In what concerns the causes of this “divorce,” opinions obviously vary. For some, the fact that the U.S. is now insistently demanding “burden sharing” is an expression of the imperative of the continuity of the liberal order systemically ushered-in at the end of the global conflagration 1939-1945: “Long overdue that Germany & Japan starting paying for the maintenance of the liberal international order”; others consider it the natural consequence of the White House’s orientation and of Brexit: “This is an inevitable consequence of Trump and Brexit”. Others identify the absence of competent U.S. leadership: “The worst part is – Merkel isn’t even power grabbing. She’s just stating the obvious. Trump is failing to lead.” The reference to U.S. neo-isolationism during the current period, stimulated by the MAGA slogan launched by Trump, is not absent: “EU considers Russia their #1 threat. Merkel is noting Trump’s ‘America First’ neo-isolationist policy,” although this reader’s logic could be long questioned geopolitically or based on standards of values. As an expression of the huge fault line that characterises American domestic policy today, it is worth reminding that there are readers who disagree with blaming Trump for the EU’s (Germany’s) reaction to the behaviour of the U.S. President at the NATO Summit (where he made no mention of Washington’s commitment toward Article 5) or at the G-7 meeting (D. Trump’s attitude toward the issue of migrants or global warming): “I think it’s a mistake to blame Trump 100%,” one of these readers writes. “The EU has made many of their own missteps. Why must we cont appease them to such high extent?”
Another one is even more categorical: “No, this is exactly what the American people voted for in November. We don’t WANT to be part of the mess that is Europe!” The replies of the political opponents were not late in coming and were numerous, ranging from “Everyone that did not speak out early against Trump should feel responsible – then get on with undoing what they did” to “this was brought to us by Putin through Trump. Trump is Putin’s poodle. The question is why. Follow the money. GOP needs to stand up” or “What can we do to be rid of this administration?” or “This America first & only is the POTUS undoing not ours! You don’t bully your allies into getting what you want while you kiss the enemy!” In what concerns the consequences of this “divorce,” the range of opinions is similarly very wide, just as it is when it comes to its causes. It’s not at all by chance that sometimes – an expression of confusion – the readers who comment include in the same comment both the causes and consequences of the event, such as, for instance, mentions of the U.S. losing systemic supremacy or the end of the liberal order. Or the case of Brexit, seen as both a cause of the possible “divorce” but also as an opportunity to abandon the June 2016 vote of the British electorate, as one of the readers evaluates: “Here is Theresa May’s chance to seize the hand of friendship with Germany.”
Similarly, many comments see opportunities for the EU to become a global actor and to build its own military instrument: “Time to make the EU a valid player under the German and French core. British out so it’s a Continental power. Now, time to rearm”; on the other hand, this “divorce” is seen by other readers as the start of the European organisation’s unravelling: “And as Germany goes, so go Turkey, Italy and especially France. We may be witnessing the end of Atlanticism. Mark the year.” The sceptics foresee a tragic path – “We are headed down a potentially tragic path” – referring to the end of the transatlantic alliance, or “Now be ready to pay price of Brexit and trumpets, to store new order in this world time could not be worst.” From Eastern Europe, a reader writes about the dilemma that has gripped the region: “Question is can East Europe trust on Germany and France when it comes to defence. Even as much as on Trump.” The readers who foresee a British-French or, on the contrary, a German-French duo for a new vision on Europe are not few, while others question the role played by Russia in this “divorce” and how Moscow will react during its implementation. But about this massive dossier concerning Russia – generally seen as a winner – maybe in another gathering of readers’ reactions on social media networks that turned red hot following A. Merkel’s statement.
At the end of this gathering, we confine ourselves to quoting what Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter account in a first reaction to the event: “After three days with Trump, Merkel draws key conclusions for Europe. This will be talked about. Much.”