German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble Warns Trump Administration on Free Trade, Russia
Posted by hkarner - 16. Januar 2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal
Influential politician’s comments highlight the possibility of divisions between allies
BERLIN—One of Germany’s most influential politicians issued stern warnings about the dangers posed by protectionist economic policies and an assertive Russia seeking to undermine Western democracies, underscoring the risk of a rift between incoming U.S. President Donald Trump and an important ally.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview with the Journal that he intended to work “as constructively as possible” with Mr. Trump’s administration. But he said it would be a mistake to pursue nationalist economic policies and wrong to minimize the threat from Russian meddling.
“Whoever wants growth—and I trust this administration will be a growth-friendly one—must be in favor of open markets,” Mr. Schäuble said. “Protectionism can afford short-term advantages but is almost always damaging in the long term.”Mr. Schäuble, 74, spoke before the publication of Mr. Trump’s interview with a German and a British newspaper, in which he threatened German car makers with a 35% tariff on cars imported to the U.S. and hinted he was open to loosening sanctions on Moscow. The comments from Mr. Schäuble and Mr. Trump highlighted the possibility of a looming clash between the U.S. and Germany over trade policy, Russia, and the shape of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Mr. Schäuble also made a point of thanking U.S. intelligence agencies for raising awareness of Moscow’s propaganda activities and other efforts to influence the direction of politics in the West. “We must counter these attempts to influence through defamation and lies and false news,” he said.
Mr. Schäuble’s comments reflect anxiety in Germany and across Europe that Russia will seek to bolster antiestablishment forces on the continent as France, the Netherlands, and Germany all prepare for major elections this year.
America’s new president, who is to take the oath of office on Friday, told Germany’s Bild and London’s Times newspapers that he would start out trusting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in equal measure. He has played down Russia’s role in the U.S. elections and described American intelligence findings that Moscow sought to influence the vote as politically motivated.
Russia denies having interfered in the U.S. campaign.
German security officials have voiced concern in recent months that Russia could seek to sway national elections in the country set for September. The same Russian group accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee has also attacked the German Parliament and political parties, officials say.
“Those who are not committed to democracy had better not manipulate the democratic decisions of countries that are inarguably democracies,” Mr. Schäuble said. “We will resist this.”
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said: “I’m fed up” with these questions about hacking. “You can print that.”
The German finance minister pointed to an instance in which Russian television falsely reported last year that a Russian girl in Berlin had been raped by migrants, prompting protests against Ms. Merkel’s refugee policy by Russian-speaking Germans across the country.
“Some people are being misled by fake news from Russian-language, state- financed and directed television,” Mr. Schäuble said. “One cannot describe this as anything but a propaganda war.”
Germany has a population of several million émigrés from Russian-speaking countries, many of them of German descent.
Mr. Schäuble’s concerns echo tensions that have long been present in Baltic countries, where large ethnic-Russian minorities get their news from Kremlin-sponsored television.
Russia is also increasingly reaching a German-speaking audience, including with a German-language online version of pro-Kremlin news channel RT. The channel, for instance, has highlighted protests against U.S. troops crossing Germany to deploy in Poland.
In Germany, Russia’s message is often similar to that of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, which is fiercely critical of Ms. Merkel and wants closer ties with Mr. Putin. The party has denied getting any support from Russia.
In a separate interview, AfD co-head Frauke Petry described the German government’s warnings about Russian interference in the German election as “saber-rattling ahead of the federal election in order to discredit the opponent in advance.”
She said Berlin also tried to influence events in foreign countries. “The game is played by all sides,” Ms. Petry said. “To behave as though there is one good side that doesn’t do it, and an evil side that only does it, is naive.”
Germany will host some of the Trump administration’s first appearances on the world stage—at meetings of the Group of 20 major economies. Foreign ministers—including the U.S. Secretary of State—will gather in Bonn in February, and Mr. Schäuble will host finance ministers—including the American treasury secretary—in March. Mr. Trump is expected to attend the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July.
Turning to another ally in the midst of a political transition, Mr. Schäuble said he didn’t believe the British government had yet settled on what it wanted its future relationship with the European Union to be after the country voted to leave the bloc last year.
Mr. Schäuble, who said he had conducted an “extensive brainstorming discussion” with Philip Hammond, his British counterpart, last week, pointed to Switzerland as an example of a country outside the EU that has secured access to the single market thanks to a number of bilateral agreements.
However, relying on a simple trade deal, as favored by some proponents of Brexit in the U.K., would leave the country worse off, he said.
“When you compare the situation of those countries with whom we have trade agreements with that of those who are members of—or have privileged access to—the single market, there’s a huge difference. I think the British government will think about this very hard. It isn’t the optimal solution.”