U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell said he wants to “empower” right-wing anti-establishment movements in Europe — and people are not pleased.
Grenell made the comments during an interview with the far-right publication Breitbart over the weekend. “I absolutely want to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders,” he said. “I think there is a groundswell of conservative policies that are taking hold because of the failed policies of the left.”
Grenell named immigration, tax cuts, and cutting red tape as major conservative issues to focus on as part of a winning strategy. He then went on to say he’s a “big fan” of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has sharply criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies. Last year, Kurz’s party also formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, which was founded by Nazis.
Grenell’s comments were quickly met with backlash across Germany, as they were read as an endorsement of particular candidates and parties — which is definitely not the job of an ambassador.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Monday said that Grenell would have to “explain what he meant” during his first official visit on Thursday. The ministry also said it was “seeking clarification on whether the statements were actually made in the form they were given.”
Many German politicians have also criticized Grenell.
“As a member of the SPD, a left party with a long proud legacy of fighting, together with the United States, both Nazis and communists, I am irritated to hear from ambassador Grenell about our allegedly failed policies,” said Metin Hakverdi, a Social Democratic Party (SPD) delegate and member of the German-U.S. parliamentary friendship group, according to The Guardian.
“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,” tweeted Lars Kingbeil, also from SPD.
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, Mr @RichardGrenell #thankyou https://t.co/Wi5uF9WjCO
— Lars Klingbeil (@larsklingbeil) June 4, 2018
Omid Nouripour, a Green MP and member of the German-U.S. parliamentary friendship group, said Grenell’s comments “give the impression that the new US ambassador still hasn’t adjusted to his new role. At least the Russians make an effort not to be seen to be meddling in other countries’ affair.”
Former SPD leader Martin Schuz said that Grenell doesn’t act like a diplomat but “like a far-right colonial officer.” Responding to a tweet that noted Grenell was basically implying that Merkel should be unseated, SPD MP Johannes Kahrs said “this gentleman has to leave the country.”
“An ambassador is a diplomatic representative of his country, not a campaigner for right-wing parties,” SPD Vice President Ralf Stegner tweeted.
On Monday, Grenell maintained on Twitter that his comments to Breitbart were not endorsements of candidates or parties.
Absurd. I condemn those comments completely. Don’t put words in my mouth. The idea that I’d endorse candidates/parties is ridiculous. I stand by my comments that we are experiencing an awakening from the silent majority – those who reject the elites & their bubble. Led by Trump. https://t.co/DjSX4SL3bf
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) June 4, 2018
This isn’t the first time Grenell’s comments have been met with backlash. Last month, he tweeted that “German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately” after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal.
At the time, former German ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger advised Grenell to “never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble.”
Ric: my advice, after a long ambassadorial career: explain your own country’s policies, and lobby the host country – but never tell the host country what to do, if you want to stay out of trouble. Germans are eager to listen, but they will resent instructions.
— Wolfgang Ischinger (@ischinger) May 9, 2018
Grenell’s comments were published just one day after Alexander Gauland, the co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), called Nazism a “speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history.”