Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel is contemplating joining forces with French President Emmanuel Macron at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week in what could turn into an epic clash of competing worldviews with U.S. President Trump.
Merkel, who has been grappling to put together a government since a German election in September, had been presumed to skip the annual meeting of leaders, CEOs, bankers and famous personalities in the Swiss Alps for a third straight year.
However, after securing a preliminary coalition agreement with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday, German officials said Merkel could travel to Davos after all, possibly setting up a major confrontation with Trump, who is expected to speak on the final day of the forum.
An appearance would signal Merkel’s return to the world stage after months of political limbo in which she has avoided the limelight and been dismissed by some in the German and international media as a spent force.
It would also allow her and Macron, who is scheduled to speak at the forum on Jan. 24, two days before Trump, to reaffirm their commitment to reforming the European Union after Britain’s decision to leave, and to defend liberal democratic values in the face of Trump’s “America First” policies.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert was coy last week when asked whether she might attend the WEF, which will run from Jan. 23-26 under the banner “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” and will attract some 60 heads of state and government.
But after clinching a preliminary deal with the SPD, the chances that she could attend appear to have risen. German officials said no final decision had been taken and that Merkel may wait for the outcome of an SPD congress in Bonn next Sunday – where the party will formally decide whether to enter coalition talks with her conservatives – before committing.
Officials at the WEF said they believed Merkel was still considering whether to attend. If she does, it is unlikely that she or Macron would overlap with Trump, who is expected to arrive on the afternoon of Jan. 25.
Merkel has met Trump several times since he became president; who could forget their excruciatingly awkward White House press conference in March 2017?
While she hasn’t scrutinized the US president directly, Merkel has been quick to voice her strong condemnation of his policies. Ahead of the G20 summit in July last year, Merkel said “globalization is seen by the American administration more as a process that is not about a win-win situation but about winners and losers.”
In parliament the same month, she said: “Anyone who believes they can solve the problems of this world with isolationism and protectionism is making a big mistake.”
This year’s gathering will be opened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Jan. 23. Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are also expected, as well as celebrities such as actress Cate Blanchett and musician Elton John.
Last year’s conference took place in the week leading up to President Trump’s inauguration and was headlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who indicated his willingness to fill the vacuum in global leadership created by America’s shift towards putting itself first.
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