Ivanka Trump Goes to Berlin as Merkel Seeks a White House Backchannel
EghtesadOnline: One is a 62-year-old former physicist who grew up in a Lutheran parish house in East Germany. The other is a businesswoman whose billionaire property-developer father brought her from Manhattan to the White House.
While at face value Angela Merkel and Ivanka Trump don’t have a lot in common, Germany’s chancellor is seeking out President Donald Trump’s daughter -- now a White House adviser -- as a back channel to try to moderate his policies. As they shared the stage on Tuesday at a conference in Berlin on women’s empowerment, Ivanka Trump expressed humility about her new position, Bloomberg reported.
“I am rather unfamiliar with this role as well as it is quite new to me,” said Trump, who traveled to the German capital on her first visit as a presidential envoy. “Thank you, chancellor, for your very gracious invitation. I am humbled to be here with so many formidable leaders. I’m listening; I’m learning.”
With the U.S. administration’s policies still in flux, how well Ivanka Trump and Merkel bridge the gulf in their backgrounds may determine the tone of future relations between the U.S. and Europe. Merkel was impressed with Ivanka Trump’s seriousness on global issues when they first met at the White House in March, and hopes she’ll be a conduit for influence, according to three German government officials. That may help the chancellor to better navigate the president’s unpredictability and policy switches.
“This is typical Merkel -- she works with what she has,” Andrea Roemmele, a political science professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said by phone. Given Ivanka Trump’s closeness to the president, “it’s very wise of Merkel” to seek her her out, said Roemmele. “That’s what you call Realpolitik.”
A working relationship with Trump is critical for Merkel as she defends German interests on trade, security guarantees for Europe and relations with Russia while seeking re-election to a fourth term in September. After his daughter’s trip to Berlin, Trump is due to encounter Merkel in Europe in May for meetings of Group of Seven and NATO leaders. Then in July, Merkel hosts him and his Group of 20 peers for a summit in Hamburg.
Trump and Merkel clashed over his calls for Germany to raise defense spending, while he criticized her immigration policy as a “catastrophic mistake.” Yet once they met, they seemed to develop a rapport that contrasted with some of his public comments about Germany.
“It’s funny: One of the best chemistries I had was with Merkel,” Trump said in an interview with the Associated Press last week. He said he hadn’t expected to get along with the chancellor, “because, um, I’m at odds on, you know, the NATO payments and I’m at odds on immigration. We had unbelievable chemistry.”
Ivanka Trump may help build on that relationship. A business graduate of elite schools who worked for her father’s company and started her own fashion line, the president’s 35-year-old daughter could hardly be more different from Merkel. The chancellor is a physicist-turned-politician who’s been in power for almost 12 years, avoids glamor and rash gestures, and once told an interviewer that she makes “a pretty good potato soup.”
At the White House, the two women got acquainted sitting next to each while co-hosting a roundtable discussion with U.S. and German business executives on the importance of job training. Focused on one of Germany’s industrial strengths, the event was a counterpoint to clashing rhetoric by the two leaders on trade and defense spending.
Merkel was struck by Ivanka Trump’s elevated role and appreciated that she spoke up several times during the White House meetings, including on global health and women’s leadership, according to two of the German officials. The chancellor tends to relate well to women, one of them said.
Two weeks later, Trump appointed his daughter as an unpaid assistant to the president, easing German concern that dealing with an unofficial family adviser might run afoul of diplomatic protocol.
In Berlin, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Bank of America Corp. Vice Chair Anne Finucaneand Queen Maxima of the Netherlands joined Merkel and Ivanka Trump on a panel on women’s economic empowerment. They agreed policy action is needed, from promoting microfinance initiatives in poorer countries to getting more women in corporate boardrooms, to make it easier for women to have a greater say in running the global economy.
Merkel and Trump also planned to tour a Siemens AG job-training school, visit to Germany’s Holocaust memorial and participate in a dinner at Deutsche Bank AG’s office in the capital.
In an joint op-ed article in the Financial Times ahead of her trip, Ivanka Trump and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called for boosting women’s participation in the global economy through measures including training, improved access to finance and changes in laws and regulations.
It’s “very heartening” that Trump’s daughter “evidently sees many shared interests with Germany,” Juergen Hardt, a lawmaker in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who helps coordinate trans-Atlantic relations for her government, said in emailed comments.
“It would be foolish not to put such a channel to use,” Hardt said.