Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, gestures while speaking during a news conference at the CDU headquarters in Berlin, Germany.(Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Merkel Calls for an Assertive Europe

(Bloomberg) -- Angela Merkel marked her return to the political front line with a call for Europe to assert its interests more forcefully as President Donald Trump punches holes in the world order.

In her first television interview after the summer break, the German chancellor said Europe needs to take on more global responsibility, including on defense. As Trump attacks Germany’s economic prowess and pursues a global trade war while Italy clashes with its European Union partners over migration, Merkel is being thrust into Europe’s pivotal role yet again.

Merkel Calls for an Assertive Europe

Fresh from hosting her old adversary Vladimir Putin in Germany, she stopped in Azerbaijan over the weekend to back a gas pipeline meant as a counterweight to Russian supplies. This week, Merkel travels to three African countries to promote investment and growth as a way to curb migration to Europe. She’s expected to talk with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris next month about proposals to strengthen the euro area.

“We have to take on more responsibility,” Merkel said Sunday in the interview with broadcaster ARD. “For Germany, that means placing our trust in Europe. We have the great duty and the big task of making this Europe a strong factor in the world, to ensure prosperity, peace and freedom.”

U.S. Sanctions?

Trump’s questioning of pillars of the post-World War II order such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his withdrawal from a nuclear accord with Iran that European powers helped negotiate is prompting countries like Germany to look for alternative arrangements.

With possible U.S. sanctions looming over European companies that do business with Iran, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas suggested last week that EU countries set up payment systems independent of the U.S.

Merkel stopped short of backing that proposal on Sunday, while saying she and her foreign minister “by and large” agree that Europe increasingly needs to shape its own destiny.

“We need a new, balanced partnership with the U.S., to win back room to maneuver for ourselves and react flexibly to the new reality,” Maas, whose Social Democrats are the junior partner in Merkel’s government, said in a speech in Berlin on Monday.

Gas Politics

In Azerbaijan, Merkel flagged her support for the Southern Gas Corridor, a pipeline project backed by the U.S. and the EU as lessening European dependence on Russian natural gas.

“Azerbaijan is an important factor for the European Union in the diversification of our energy supplies,” Merkel said Saturday alongside President Ilham Aliyev in Baku.

Read more: Turkey to Open Longest Pipe in $40 Billion Azeri Gas Project

A week earlier, Merkel hosted Putin for their first one-on-one talks in Germany in more than five years. The Kremlin said they agreed to push ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will increase Russian gas supplies to Germany, despite the possibility of U.S. sanctions after Trump said Germany’s energy imports make it “a captive of Russia.”

Projecting stability, defending German interests and outlasting her opponents have been key to Merkel’s political longevity during her almost 13 years in office. Some of those traits were on display when she invited Putin back in from the cold, according to Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference and a former German ambassador to the U.S.

“It symbolizes her mule-like patience,” he said in an interview.

Italy Challenge

EU clashes over limiting migration, stoked most recently by Italy’s populist-led government, are shaping up as the next test of Merkel’s stamina in the buildup to an EU summit in Austria in September. Merkel said she couldn’t promise that governments would reach a deal by an end-of-August target.

“I hope we can still make progress in the remaining time, though I know that these talks are anything but easy,” she said Saturday.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.