After missing the event for two years, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, delivering a defense of globalism and a rebuke of isolationist tendencies that have emerged in Europe and Washington.
It marked her return to the world stage following months of political uncertainty at home, where she is still trying to stitch together a new government after her party’s weak showing in elections last fall.
Merkel made a plea for multilateral solutions to global challenges.
“Isolation is not an answer,” she emphasized in her speech, sending a message against President Trump’s “America First” politics. Although Merkel never mentioned Donald Trump by name, his presence in her speech was constant and unmistakable.
Alluding to recent trade barriers the U.S. enacted against China and other countries, she said: “If things are not proceeding fairly, we have to find a multilateral solution for that — not a national one.”
Merkel also spoke out against right-wing populism in Europe, calling it “poison” for society.
“This generation born after the Second World War will have to prove they have learned the lessons of history,” she said.
Merkel said that harmful generalizations must be countered. “One has to look at every human being as an individual and must not use stereotypes,” she said.
She acknowledged that Germany is facing serious challenges of its own, most notably a social polarization not seen for decades, caused by the euro and migration crises of recent years. Nevertheless, she vowed, Germany would not react with isolationism.
President Trump, who arrives in Davos Thursday morning, will give his speech on Friday, but Merkel won’t be meeting with him. She left Davos Wednesday evening.
Her speech was another sign of the growing divergence between the two countries, which used to form a constant transatlantic bond.
But Merkel’s speech wasn’t entirely about Trump. She also saw Davos as a chance to send Germany’s signal to the world: Yes, we are still here, and we do want a strong Europe.
French President Emmanuel Macron is still waiting for answers and feedback from Berlin concerning his vision for the future European Union. Before the German election in September 2017, Macron presented his sweeping proposal for deepening European unification, including a budget for the eurozone, a common defense budget and a Europe-wide financial transaction tax.
But on Wednesday, Merkel only complimented her French partner without getting into further details or making concrete commitments. She could be looking to solidify her government before taking clear stands on Macron’s proposals.
The final coalition talks with Germany’s Social Democrats, the party that has agreed to partner with her Christian Democratic Union, will start Friday.
At the end of her speech, she referred to the election in Germany and the process of finding a new government. Germany could fulfill its international role much better, she said, if a new government were formed very quickly. “Keep your fingers crossed for me that we will have a new and stable government in Germany soon,” she said.