Summit-Bound Merkel Takes Swipe at Trump, Europe's Populists

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel took aim at European populists and President Donald Trump’s protectionism, calling on EU leaders to stand up for free trade and democratic institutions at a series of summits this week.

Addressing parliament in Berlin ahead of a Europe-Asia meeting in Brussels, Merkel said she wants it to be a showcase for multilateralism among countries that account for two thirds of the global economy. With markets focused on Italy’s budget, she also warned euro-area nations that responsibility for fiscal stability starts at home.

“It’s especially important to me that this summit send a signal for multilateral cooperation, for the firm belief that it leads to a win-win situation,” Merkel said Wednesday, reprising a phrase meant to contrast with the Trump administration’s “America First” trade agenda.

Europe’s three days of summitry this week are a chance for Merkel, the region’s longest-serving leader, to pivot to the global stage and get a respite from increasingly tumultuous domestic politics. Next week, she’ll campaign in the state of Hesse, where her Christian Democrats are seeking to stay in power in a regional election on Oct. 28.

In a retort to some of Europe’s populists, Merkel portrayed the euro as a success and said Germany’s goal is to ensure the currency’s ability to withstand financial crises. That also means that Germany can only give its blessing when a “full package” of measures to strengthen the euro is on the table, she said.

“In turbulent times like these, we can be happy to have a common currency in Europe, the euro,” Merkel said.

That’s a tack similar to French President Emmanuel Macron, her key partner in holding the EU together.

“The world is fracturing, new disorders are appearing and Europe is tipping almost everywhere toward extremes and again is giving way to nationalism,” Macron said in a televised speech on Tuesday evening. “Those who do not see what is going on around us are sleepwalking. Not me.”

Merkel and other EU leaders are meeting in Brussels later Wednesday to discuss the U.K.’s exit from the bloc, followed by a regular summit and the meeting with Asian leaders on Friday. With less than six months remaining until Brexit, the U.K.’s divorce from the bloc is first on the agenda as negotiations deadlock over the future of the Irish border.

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“There’s still a chance to conclude a good, sustainable agreement in a timely fashion,” Merkel said. “I would like to emphasize once again that I would like Britain to remain a close, trusting partner in Europe.”

Germany’s government “also has begun preparing” for a no-deal Brexit, which would raise complex issues for business and individuals, she said. Her government’s special cabinet committee on Brexit discussed the matter at its latest meeting Wednesday.

Merkel warned of the risk of meddling in next year’s European Parliament elections, where established parties are likely to be squeezed by populists.

“Recent experience shows that targeted disinformation, cyber attacks or misuse of data can all too easily distort election results,” the chancellor said in her speech to the Bundestag.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.