Angela Merkel will be severely tested by macho strongmen at the G20 summit

Summoning her strength.
Summoning her strength.
Image: Reuters/Ina Fassbender
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

There’s a lot riding on the upcoming G20 summit for German leader Angela Merkel, host of this year’s gathering of world leaders in Hamburg.

With a few months to go until federal elections, the chancellor, who’s known for using high-profile global summits to bolster her image at home, wants to show voters that her place on the world stage is as secure as ever. Thrust to the fore as the world’s primary defender of liberal values, Merkel will face a stern diplomatic test from swaggering populists Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who all have bones to pick with the German chancellor.

Her encounters this evening, ahead of the official start of the two-day summit tomorrow, will set the tone. First, she meets one-on-one with Trump, followed by a sit-down with Erdogan. The presidents are perhaps her two most outspoken critics among G20 leaders.

Yesterday, Merkel criticized the Trump administration in an interview with Die Zeit, saying “globalization is seen by the American administration more as a process that is not about a win-win situation but about winners and losers.” She also told the German parliament last week that “anyone who believes they can solve the problems of this world with isolationism and protectionism is making a big mistake.”

Protectionism is just one of the many topics where the chancellor is at odds with the US president, who is also critical of the “catastrophic mistake” Germany has made by allowing refugees to settle in the country. Today’s freshly signed EU-Japan trade agreement will emphasize Merkel’s commitment to globalization and co-operation with neighbors and allies, a sharp contrast to Trump’s “America First” policies.

After Trump, Merkel must meet with an angry Turkish president, who savaged Germany in a Die Zeit interview of his own, published today, accusing the government of committing “political suicide” for refusing to allow him address the large Turkish population in Germany while he’s in town for the summit. Merkel and Erdogan have had multiple run-ins in recent years years; Merkel most recently criticized her Turkish counterpart for imprisoning a German journalist.

The German chancellor is no stranger to managing macho strongmen, but the stakes for her personal political career at this year’s G20 are high, offering both risks and opportunities.