The Current

Trudeau 'in middle' between Merkel and Trump at G20 summit

As the world anticipates a showdown between German leader Angela Merkel and U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 meeting — how will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintain relations with both countries and keep to his commitments?
After G7 talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU could no longer count on the U.S. as the same reliable partner as with previous U.S. administrations. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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With the G20 meeting getting underway in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7, Canada is in a delicate new place in the world.

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord is pulling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau closer to Europe.

But this week Trump tweeted the prime minister was his "new found friend" — and that's a status Canada wants to keep as delicate NAFTA negotiations get underway.

Then there's the anticipated showdown between Trump and German leader Angela Merkel at this year's G20 summit.

After G7 talks in May, Merkel made note of shifting relations between the two countries, saying Europe could no longer rely on their longstanding U.S. ally. 

"The times when we could completely count on others are — to a certain extent — over," Merkel said at an election rally.

So with Merkel in a position to keep her distance from Trump — a man hugely unpopular in Germany  — that leaves Trudeau stuck in the middle forced to put diplomacy to the test, say observers. 

"Obviously the economic relationship between the United States and Canada as it is is fundamental and therefore he has to maintain that. But at the same time, the prime minister also indicated his concern on these global issues and his desire to make progress," Tom Bernes of the Centre for International Governance Innovation tells The Current's summer host Mike Finnerty.
Following the G7 Taormina summit in May 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her disappointment that the Trump administration was unwilling to join the other six G7 member states on joint statements on climate change. (Getty Images)

"[Trudeau] is going to find himself in the middle in some sense with others looking to him in terms of how to manage a relationship. And likewise, he's going to have to try and maintain a balance between the U.S. on one side and these other players on the other side."

Bernes predicts Trump will not change his mind on environmental or trade issues, and suggests it's up to leaders to "find some midway house that prevents a big flare-up and potentially a trade war."

"And can the prime minister help in finding that?"

Aside from Trudeau's balancing act between Europe and America, Bernes suggests Canada's priorities at the G20 meeting will be three key issues: trade, environment and gender equality.

"Obviously, two of them at least, he's in a delicate position vis-à-vis the U.S. and that's where I think the balance comes out in some ways."

He believes what Canada needs to focus on at the G20 is holding on to the agreements this country currently has — and not to get stuck on measuring success with progress at the meeting..

According to Bernes, what constitutes failure "is the blow-up of the G20."

"If things go very wrong the G20 loses its role in the world — a role which is very important for Canada as a forum by which we can help to shape multilateral policy," he tells Finnerty.

"I think that is the worst case scenario by far."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post — inclding other panelists John Nichols from The Nation Magazine and Marcel Dirsus from the University of Kiel. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal, Julian Uzielli and Ramraajh Sharvendiran.