Angela Merkel at Davos: What did she say? And even though she didn't mention him, was it all about Trump?

Angela Merkel at Davos: What did she say? And even though she didn't mention him, was it all about Trump?

German Chancellor said we have not learned the lessons of history

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.

What was her message? And to who was it addressed?

Donald Trump

Although she never mentioned the US President by name, he was plainly in the Chancellor’s sights, particularly his rejection of multilateralism and his doctrine of “America First”.

Ms Merkel warned about the rise of “national egotism” and said his style of politics ignored the lessons of the great conflicts of the 20th Century, such as the First World War, when national leaders “almost sleepwalked into a horrendous situation”.

“And we today, 100 years later, have to ask ourselves a very pertinent question: have we learned the lessons of history? We haven’t really” she said.

“The lesson that we drew at the formation of the United Nations [after the Second World War] was a lesson of multilateralism – an answer of cooperation.”

She mentioned that in one important area of global cooperation – the fight against climate change – the world community had needed to “draw our conclusions without the United States”, referring to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord.

Another area where she stressed the imperative of international cooperation was on managing migration.

Again, thoughts of Donald Trump and his Mexican border wall idea were hard to ignore.

“We’ve known since the Roman empire, since the Chinese wall, only shutting ourselves off doesn’t help to protect your borders,” she said.

“You also need good cooperation with your neighbours, good agreements that are respected in order to manage this problem of illegal migration.”

Europe

Ms Merkel was keen to talk up the strength of the European Union.  She said last year’s election of Emmanuel Macron in France had given a “new impetus which will strengthen us”.

However she acknowledged that not everyone is enthusiastic for more Europe, saying “not all the members say we want an ever-closer union”.

Ms Merkel also suggested that, despite its cyclical recovery, more needed to be done to shore up the eurozone.

“We’ve never really reflected on what happens when this currency [the euro] gets into danger – we’re not working on the foundation, which we should have done in the first place,” she said, perhaps reflecting the fact that this theme of eurozone structural reform is very much in keeping with the programme of the Social Democrats, with whom she is currently attempting to forge a domestic governing coalition.

Brexit

While saying that Brexit was “obviously regrettable”, Ms Merkel identified a silver lining.  “This has almost encouraged us [in the EU] to concentrate on the big issues,” she said.

As for how phase two of the Brexit talks would unfold this year Ms Merkel stuck strictly to the EU’s “no cherry picking” script.

“We will be very clear on questions connected with exit. Single market participation is contingent on the freedoms, freedom of movement as well,” she said.

The digital economy

A big theme of Ms Merkel’s speech was the internet and social media, which she linked to the health of democracy itself.

“Data will be the raw material of the 21st Century – the question ‘who owns that data?’ will decide whether democracy, the participatory social model and economic prosperity can be combined,” she said.

The context here is that Germany has passed much tighter social media laws than exist in other countries, with fines for firms that do not rapidly remove “obviously illegal” posts.

Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak directly to some of the Silicon Valley leaders present in Davos, she said: “You too live off pre-conditions that you have not created … Help us to create the environment that is conducive to prosperity in the future”.

The underlying message seemed to be: pay your fair share of tax.

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