Angela Merkel’s hostility towards Donald Trump: A rise in expected tensions over the Nord Stream 2.

  • + The Nord Stream 2 has led to controversies and debates in the US.
  • + It is argued that Germany would be more reliant on Russia because of it.
  • + A Baltic Sea port operator has been threatened by US senators, rasing tensions.
Source: Time Magazine

Why has led to hostility between Angela Merkel and Donald Trump?

Answer: A letter sent by Trump-supporting senators threatening a port operator was answered furiously by German politicians. 

Since the agreement reached by Merkel and Putin in June 2015, the Nord Stream has raised controversy among political leaders from both the EU Member States and third-party countries. 

It was argued by US representatives that the construction of the pipeline means a threat to Europe’s energy security, a statement supported by countries like Poland. The construction of this second pipeline that connects Germany with Russia would allow Russia to bypass Ukraine in its supply to Western Europe. Moreover, other Eastern European countries might be affected by Nord Stream 2. 

Merkel’s government decision to approve a gas pipeline constructed and owned by a state-owned company like Gazprom was clearly against the EU Energy Security Strategy towards a supply diversification. But this is not the subject of the article. What does Trump have to say about all this?

Like his predecessor, Donald Trump is undoubtedly against the construction of the Nord Stream 2. His relations with Angela Merkel since he took office has been rather rough than easy in a wide range of issues – NATO spending, transatlantic trade, energy supply to name a few.

On the 5th of August 2020, a letter was sent by three pro-Trump US senators threatening a port operator of the Baltic Sea. In the letter, they exposed the legal sanctions that he might face in case of continuous support for the construction of the Nord Stream 2.

This triggered anger amongst German representatives who reacted promptly to the blackmail from Washington. Several politicians from both political families, socialist and conservative, have declared their outrage, even stating that the movement was part of a neo-imperialist US foreign policy.

Despite this recent event, the tensions between both leaders were already high. Some media have described their relationship as a Cold War, and we have had the opportunity to see them confronted in several scenarios, such as the G-7 summit. 

The letter has meant more fire to the already hostile relationship Merkel and Trump have developed since 2017. Despite disagreement in several political aspects, these leaders need each other as their relationship has mutual benefits, especially economically but this increasing hostility might change their future relationship. 

What does Angela Merkel want?

Answer: Direct and cheaper natural gas supply to her citizens, avoiding the pass of pipelines through Eastern Europe. 

Angela Merkel has understood the Nord Stream 2 agreement as a business decision since its inception and has tried to leave politics behind it. According to Gazprom, Nord Stream 2 is economically beneficial for both sides as it is expected to create 31,000 jobs in the EU and contribute to the EU’s GDP. 

Even though it is understandable how this movement is beneficial for Putin’s strategic purposes, Merkel has strictly followed an economic approach to the issue. After the success of the first Nord Stream pipeline, Nord Stream 2 is meant to be an economic success and the path followed to decarbonise Germany’s economy after Merkel’s decision of shutting down nuclear energy plants. 

After the abandoning nuclear energy as a source of supply partly due to the pressure of the leftist and greens after the Fukushima accident, Merkel needs natural gas as a tool to fuel the German economy. She also has the backup of her predecessor, Gerhard Schroder, who is looking after the completion of Nord Stream 2. We can assume that the support she has from previous remarkable politicians and her party, is the cornerstone of her firm decision on continuing with the construction.  

Firmly committed to the project, Merkel has been in the centre of the negotiations and would not let any players, especially foreign ones, influence her decision. Merkel is dealing with the negative opinions and statements of US representatives as well as the refusal of Eastern European Member States for the project. Despite the pressure she is dealing with, Merkel is denying political interests in the Nord Stream 2 while solely focusing on economic aspects, the kind of reasoning that could be expected from a pragmatic politician such as Merkel. 

Moreover, as Merkel and her government have firmly advocated for a transition towards a greener economy, a larger supply of natural gas will help to abandon coal consumption for a less polluting energy source. In fact, the German politician has made a strong commitment to a green recovery from coronavirus. 

What does Donald Trump want?

Answer: To stop the expansion of Russian influence on the European Union for his own benefit. 

The answer given above is incomplete. Donald Trump also wants to sell natural gas from the United States to Western Europe – the main consumer and importer of energy worldwide – and the Nord Stream 2 is threatening this.

The fracking industry in the US has widely expanded; its production was on the rise until the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted the energy market. Since 2016, the sales of liquified natural gas (LNG) from the US to the European Union have increased significantly, and new terminals have been constructed in Germany. 

Europe’s market is one of the favourites of the US energy companies; Trump knows that to enhance US competitiveness, he needs to expand his trade-relations with economic powers like Germany. As a consequence, the decision on the Nord Stream 2 was not warmly received in the White House as it derives gas demand towards Russia. 

Looking at what Trump really desires, it must be noted that he has a more political stance than Merkel does. Just like many EU leaders, Donald Trump and US representatives think that the construction and development of the Nord Stream 2 is an opportunity for energy blackmail by Putin. In other words, the German market will increasingly rely on Russian suppliers.

The above translated into geopolitical language means a further influence of Russia in Europe’s politics. This doesn’t cheer Trump, a politician accustomed to getting what he wants and not afraid of withdrawing from international agreements and institutions where the US traditionally played a leading role. Currently, Trump doesn’t want the European Union to be a puppet of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy since he would like the union to be one of the US instead.

It is imperative for Donald Trump to expand the image of the US as an international power, as he promised to make “America Great Again”. The current polls don’t promise a good electoral result for the current US President as Joe Biden is winning support amongst citizens. If Trump wants to demonstrate a strong position and leadership, he cannot afford to show weakness in the ongoing geopolitical fight, neither with Xi Jinping nor with Vladimir Putin. 

What is Donald Trump doing?

Answer: Blaming Merkel for being weak and let Putin influence an increase in the territory.

The latest move of Trump’s allies has been to send a threat letter to a Baltic Sea port operator. But it was not unexpected as US sanctions have already been imposed on the Nord Stream 2 project. 

As a man of action, Trump is also more inclined to make hasty decisions instead of dialoguing with his traditional allies in the international society. This often leads to incidents whereby Trump’s decisions (here, unilateral sanctions on Nord Stream 2) are in contradiction with international trade rules and law.

Trump is publicly pressuring Angela Merkel to stop buying Russian natural gas. Besides his statements and the sanctions his government has imposed on the project, he has taken this a step further by threatening the afore-mentioned port operator. 

His measures to stop Nord Stream 2 construction are following his unpredictable behaviour. Uncertainty is what can be expected from Trump to reach his objectives, and that is what we are witnessing in this matter. The principal change is that unlike his general isolationist policy, in this case, Trump has the support of other countries to oppose the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Who is winning and what about you?

Answer: Probably Merkel, as the construction of Nord Stream 2 is still going on. It can have consequences for all EU and US citizens.

The construction of Nord Stream 2 is just one of the many areas where Angela Merkel and Donald Trump collide. Both of them are behaving according to their own style – she is pragmatic and firm in her decisions; he engages in blunt, unpredictable actions. This is not just a story about a threat letter to a port worker and an angry German response. It has international consequences for citizens alike.  

Firstly, the fact that there is such a clear confrontation could lead to a trade war between the US and the European Union, a risk that would affect both consumers and workers as imports and exports would be affected in the two markets. Rising taxes between US and EU products, more sanctions against European citizens working on the Nord Stream 2 project, possible consequences on the NATO configuration, amongst other concerns will all affect citizens and their rights on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

It also has security implications, particularly in the context of NATO. This hostile environment could lead to a further breakdown in transatlantic defence relations. This would result in Europe’s need to enhance its military capabilities independent of the US, which involves those citizens who are engaged in it. In any case, this situation could volatilise many strategic areas for both political leaders and their citizens. As a consequence, this is a relationship that must be monitored closely.

Claudia María Yáñez Sangil

Research and Analysis Intern