By Jorge Valero
(EurActiv) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Donald Trump found little common ground on Friday (16 March) on the management of the refugee crisis, but promised to work out compromises to overcome the dispute over the trade relations.
In her first visit to the White House in the Trump era, Merkel said that there were areas were they “disagreed” but they would try to find “compromises good for both sides”.
“Sometimes compromises are difficult,” the chancellor stressed, but added that reaching them is why politicians are elected for.
Their disagreement was crystal-clear when they spoke about migration.
Trump underlined that “immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first.” The priority must be “protect our citizens” from “those who spread violence”.
Merkel agreed that “we have to protect our external borders”. But that has to be done “while looking at the refugees as well, given them the opportunity to shape their lives.”
In the past, Trump accused Merkel of “ruining” Germany by accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Last January, Merkel told Trump in a phone call that the Geneva convention requires the international community to take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds.
Despite their disagreement, Trump avoided the bitter rhetoric of the past and showed a more conciliatory tone during the joint press conference.
He even praised Germany’s economic performance.
“Germany has done great, I give them credit for it,” he said.
“I am not an isolationist”
The US president insisted that he will look at the trade relationships with Germany and other partners including China and the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.
“We don’t want victory, we want fairness,” he stressed.
“I am not an isolationist. I am a free trader, but a fair trader”, he added.
Merkel ruled out the possibility of bilateral talks as members of Trump team suggested. She stressed that the European Commission is the responsible body to negotiate trade deals in the EU.
The German chancellor added that this would not prevent the EU and the US of reaching a “beneficial” deal for both sides of the Atlantic.
“Trade has to be fairer, and beneficial for both sides,” Merkel commented. She named the EU-South Korea trade agreement as an example of a mutual beneficial deal.
Both leaders were expected to discuss the economic and trade issues after the press conference.
EU absent, support for NATO
Merkel pointed out that ‘unity’ in the EU contributed to Germany’s “success” in the economic field, security and peace.
Trump did not make any comments about the European project on Friday.
In the past, he flip-flopped his views on Europe.
Initially, he supported UK’s exit from the EU and invited other countries to follow London’s example. Weeks after he said that the Union was a “wonderful” thing and was “totally in favor of it”.
The US President pledged his “strong support” for NATO. But he insisted that the European nations “must pay what they owe”.
He welcomed Merkel’s commitment to increase military spending to reach the Alliance’s target of 2% of GDP per country.
Trade, the refugee crisis and military spending have been a source of dispute over the last weeks between Washington and Berlin.
Both leaders, however, emphasised also the areas of cooperation, including the war in Afghanistan, Ukraine or the fight against ISIS.
Wiretapped by Obama
The meeting came in the midst of the controversy triggered by Trump’s accusations against his predecessor Barack Obama for being wiretapped in the final period of the campaign.
The leaders of the US Senate Intelligence committee said they did not see any evidence to substantiate the allegations.
When asked about the issue by a German reporter, Trump underscored that despite division between Germany and the US “at least we have something in common, perhaps”.
According to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Merkel’s mobile phone was wiretapped by the Obama Administration.
Trump did not take any responsibility for his unconfirmed accusations as he said he was quoting a Fox News commentator.
He added that he “very seldom” regretted his tweets.
Merkel’s visit to Washington followed Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny’s meeting with Trump on Thursday.
During the morning, both leaders chaired a roundtable discussion on vocational training and the future of jobs in the fourth industrial revolution era.
Trump praised Germany’s ‘incredible job’ training employees and future employees.
The rare mutual recognition showcased during the press conference contrasted with the rather cold start of the meeting.
Trump even ignored Merkel’s invitation for a handshake before the photographers.