World News

Promoting Europe’s Conservatives, U.S. Envoy Upsets Germans

Posted June 4, 2018 3:24 p.m. EDT

BERLIN — Richard Grenell is the United States’ top diplomat in Berlin, but Germans were questioning his diplomatic skills Monday, after he said that he wanted to empower conservative leaders in Europe who dared to challenge what he called “the failed policies of the left.”

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Monday that the ministry had requested a clarification of remarks by Grenell, the new U.S. ambassador to Germany, which were condemned on both sides of the Atlantic as lacking the neutrality expected of a diplomat. His statements came at a time when Berlin and Washington are at odds over President Donald Trump’s moves to withdraw the United States from the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris Climate Accord — both of which Berlin supports — and to raise tariffs on steel and imports from Europe.

In a wide-ranging interview with Breitbart London that was released over the weekend, Grenell, who assumed his post in May, said, “There are a lot of conservatives throughout Europe who have contacted me to say they are feeling there is a resurgence going on.”

“I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe,” he said. “I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”

Germany’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic affairs, Peter Beyer, said he was looking forward to meeting Grenell on Wednesday.

“I hope he will explain what he actually said in the Breitbart interview and what he meant by it,” Beyer said. “In challenging times like these, the U.S.A. and Europe need to firmly stand together to defend common values and interests.”

Grenell’s criticism of the 2015 deal brokered between Iran and world powers was evident in his first days on the job, when he took to Twitter to warn German businesses that they “should wind down operations immediately” in Iran, or face U.S. sanctions. That was taken as an affront by many in Germany, where traditions run deep and where ambassadors are viewed as guests who are expected to follow protocol.

“I know you are still quite new at your post, but it is not part of the job description of an ambassador to interfere in the politics of his guest country,” Lars Klingbeil, head of the center-left Social Democrats, replied in a Twitter post addressed directly to Grenell.

Other members of his party, which is in a governing coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats, were less diplomatic. Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament and former leader of the Social Democrats, insisted that an ambassador’s job was to represent his country, not other nations’ political movements. Grenell’s behavior was not that of a diplomat, he told the German news agency DPA, but more like “a far-right colonial officer.”

In Washington, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called the interview “awful,” insisting that Grenell had pledged that he would “stay out of politics” once he was appointed. “Ambassadors aren’t supposed to ‘empower’ any political party overseas,” Murphy said on Twitter.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said the German chancellor had taken note of Grenell’s interview, but he declined to comment.

On Monday, Grenell sought to walk back his comments, though only up to a point.

“The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous,” Grenell wrote on Twitter. “I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority — those who reject the elites & their bubble.”

In fact, Grenell did praise Austria’s young chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, as a “rock star” of the right in the Breitbart interview. Kurz rose to power as foreign minister by criticizing Merkel’s open-door immigration policies, and banded together with Balkan nations to put a halt to the practice of waving migrants without documentation over national borders.

A spokesman for Kurz, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, said the Austrian chancellor would meet with Grenell next week, when he plans to visit Berlin for talks with Merkel and other German leaders. “In times such as these, it is important to keep in touch with the U.S. president’s closest confidants, especially on issues such as trade policy and trans-Atlantic relations,” he said.

The U.S. Embassy said the meeting had been arranged at Kurz’s request.

If recent elections are any indication, conservatives in Europe seem to be doing fine without Grenell’s help. In the past week, Italy swore in a euroskeptic, anti-immigrant government, and a pro-Europe government in Spain suddenly collapsed. Over the weekend, voters in Slovenia returned a populist, once-disgraced former prime minister to office on his pledge to put the country’s needs first.