Defying Trump, Merkel Backs Macron’s Call for EU Army

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel set out her vision of a more assertive European Union, with a European army, as a flurry of provocative tweets from Donald Trump sought to stir up old divisions between western allies.

Defying Trump, Merkel Backs Macron’s Call for EU Army

The normally understated chancellor took an uncharacteristically bold stance as she addressed EU lawmakers in Strasbourg. She’d spent the weekend commemorating the end of World War I in Paris alongside more than 60 global leaders and witnessed first hand the tensions between Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron.

In the French capital she defended her world view against the U.S. president’s barbs as he sparred with Macron. In the EU parliament on Tuesday, she went a step further, telling deputies they need to adapt to a world in which Europe’s traditional allies may no longer guarantee the continent’s security.

“We should also work on the vision of one day creating a genuine European army,” Merkel said. “The times in which we could unconditionally rely on others are over.”

As many lawmakers applauded, the comments drew loud jeers from euroskeptic lawmakers at the margins of the chamber.

The German leader set out a three-year timetable for her departure from the political stage last month, freeing her hand to focus on her legacy rather than the demands of the next election. After holding the euro area together through the debt crisis and pushing back against Russian aggression in the east, her time in office is winding down with EU values threatened by the rise of nationalism at home and the U.S. president cheering from the sidelines.

On Tuesday, Trump was still grousing about the perceived slights from his weekend in Paris.

At 6:50 a.m. in Washington, he tweeted another attack on the French leader, mocking the idea of a European army and implying that the French had needed the U.S. to rescue them from the Germans in both world wars.

Over the next couple of hours, as many in France were remembering the Paris terror attacks that killed more than 130 people exactly three years ago, Trump sent out a series of further jibes. He accused Macron of stirring up controversy to distract from his poor approval rating, complained about French tariffs on U.S. wine and offered an explanation for pulling out of a visit to a military cemetery due to bad weather.

A senior aide to the French president said he was glad that Trump had taken the time to study some history. Former Belgium Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt gave Trump another history lesson on his own Twitter account.

The French official said he thought the tweets were aimed at Trump’s domestic audience. He said the two leaders speak several times a week and their relationship is fluid, even if it isn’t always easy. Trump may be facing further turbulence at home later on Tuesday with CBS reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller may issue new indictments relating to his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Merkel said an EU army would be “a positive extension” of the U.S.-led NATO alliance. In another jab at Trump, she expressed concern in an evening speech in Berlin about “very vehement attacks on multilateralism.” The global order that arose after World War II is worth defending, Merkel said.

Merkel has been urging her European colleagues to build or expand independent structures since last year, when Trump castigated NATO leaders in Brussels and withdrew from the Paris climate accord.

The U.K. government, which is negotiating its exit from the EU, won’t support the idea of an EU army, a spokeswoman said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.