5 Reasons Why Donald Trump’s Meeting With Angela Merkel Matters So Much

March 17, 2017, 1:07 PM UTC

President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet face-to-face for the first time in Washington, D.C. on Friday in a much-anticipated and highly consequential summit for both leaders. The sit-down was initially planned for Tuesday but was postponed until Friday due to winter storm Stella that pummeled the U.S. East Coast earlier in the week.

Trump has alternately offered harsh criticism and praise for Merkel, accusing her of “ruining” Germany with her “catastrophic mistake” of a refugee policy, while also naming her his “favorite” world leader.

Merkel, meanwhile, has so far carefully avoided any overt confrontation with the U.S. president, promising to judge Trump on his actions rather than his words. When the first U.S. refugee ban was announced in late January, Merkel reportedly explained the terms of the Geneva Convention in a phone call with the president. In preparation for Friday’s meeting, she met with Vice President Mike Pence in Munich last month, and has been grilling fellow world leaders like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for their tips on dealing with Trump in person. Aides say Merkel has read so much about the president that she can “quote interviews Trump has given from memory,” according to The Daily Telegraph.

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The two leaders are often characterized as opposites, with Merkel’s deliberate and carefully-considered political style at odds with Trump’s bombastic approach. While a Trump aide reportedly recently dismissed the German chancellor and the leader of Europe’s largest economy as a “typical liberal woman,” there is still hope that Merkel and Trump may find common ground on a few key issues.

Their meeting will help craft the future of transatlantic relations, shaping policy in five key areas: trade, immigration, climate change, foreign policy, and defense. Here’s what to know about where they stand:

1. Trade

Merkel won’t be flying solo in D.C. A number of prominent German business leaders, including BMW CEO Harald Krüger and Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, will join her on the trip to lobby against harsh tax hikes on German cars and moderate discussion on reducing America’s $65 billion trade deficit with Germany. According to Bloomberg, Merkel plans to give Trump a “tutorial” on trade, defend Germany’s trade surplus and warn against protectionism and potentially retaliatory trade measures. Peter Navarro, Trump’s appointed director of the National Trade Council, stoked tensions with Germany earlier this year when he claimed the country’s trade surplus is the result of an undervalued euro and said Germany was the reason for the downfall of a U.S.-EU trade agreement.

2. Immigration

Merkel and Trump have already clashed on immigration issues, with Merkel expressing her “regrets” over the U.S. administration’s initial refugee ban barring citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. Trump, for his part, called Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees a “catastrophic mistake” and said he believed the policy would cause more countries to leave the EU after Brexit.

3. Climate change

With Trump advisors split over whether to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the German chancellor may have an opening to lobby the U.S. administration to maintain its support for the historic, 194-nation treaty. Merkel pledged to work with Trump on climate change in November, acknowledging that “climate negotiations with American presidents … were not easy in the past.” Merkel can mostly negotiate on this point from a position of strength—given Germany’s record on promoting renewables—but one pressure point may be her lobbying of U.S. regulators to relax environmental standards for German diesel cars.

4. Foreign policy

Given the ongoing investigation into the Trump administration’s contact with Russian officials, Merkel will have to carefully approach issues of foreign policy in her discussion with the president. While Trump has spoken of a warm relationship with the Russian leader, Merkel has had a historically testy one. Some analysts believe the leaders will “skirt around the Russia issue” during the meeting, though one administration official told Bloomberg last week that “Trump wants to hear Merkel’s views on dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin and on prospects for peace in eastern Ukraine.” Whether the situations in Ukraine and Syria are addressed or ignored after the meeting will be an important indicator of the administration’s approach to both conflicts.

5. Defense

As Trump has called for defense spending hikes in the U.S., he’s hoping Germany and its fellow NATO allies will do the same, meeting the alliance’s guideline of spending 2% of their GDP on defense (Germany currently spends 1.2% of its GDP). “The message has been strong that all allies need to be making progress towards this goal. I expect it will definitely be a topic of conversation … it will be a robust discussion on how to operationalize this goal,” said one senior White House official. Trump has also called NATO “obsolete,” but solidifying the U.S.’s commitment to the world’s largest military alliance is a high priority for Merkel.

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