Donald Trump’s visit to Brussels today has been one controversy after another. First he brusquely pushed Montenegro’s prime minister aside to get to the front of a photo-op. Then he declined to support Article Five, the cornerstone of NATO’s alliance, in a speech. Now, two of Germany’s leading newspapers are reporting that in a meeting with the EU’s top leadership he insulted Germany, threatened to cut off its car imports to the US, and displayed a stunning lack of knowledge about basic trade policy.
Der Spiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung (links in German), each citing sources who were at the meeting, reported Trump calling the Germans “bad, very bad” for their running a trade surplus with the US. “Look at the millions of cars they’re selling in the US. Terrible. We will stop this,” he told European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk, according to Der Spiegel. In an interview in January, Trump had told German newspaper Bild that he would slap a 35% import tax on BMWs assembled in Mexico, with an eye to getting manufacturers to set up shop in the US.
Juncker reportedly defended the Germans, making the case for free trade in a friendly but firm tone, Spiegel reports. The EU leaders were also appalled at the Americans’ poor knowledge of EU-US trade policy, both papers say. Chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, seemed to think that there were different customs tariffs between the US and Germany than between the US and Belgium, according to Der Spiegel. (In fact, all euro-zone countries abide by the same tariff policy.) Unsurprisingly, reported the Süddeutsche Zeitung, there was “no rapprochement” in economic and trade issues.
The White House did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. We’ll update if they do.