Ivanka Trump goes to Berlin as Angela Merkel seeks White House conduit

US President's daughter Ivanka Trump, International Monetary Fund's managing director Christine Lagarde and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the W20 Summit in Berlin, Germany, on April 25, 2017.
US President's daughter Ivanka Trump, International Monetary Fund's managing director Christine Lagarde and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the W20 Summit in Berlin, Germany, on April 25, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS
First daughter and advisor to the US President, Ivanka Trump, and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, applaud at the start of a panel discussion at the W20 women's empowerment summit on April 25, 2017 in Berlin
First daughter and advisor to the US President, Ivanka Trump, and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, applaud at the start of a panel discussion at the W20 women's empowerment summit on April 25, 2017 in Berlin. PHOTO: AFP
(From left to right) First Daughter and Advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, co-chairwoman of the W20 Stephanie Bschorr, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands pose for a family photo during the W20 women's empowerme
(From left to right) First Daughter and Advisor to the US President Ivanka Trump, co-chairwoman of the W20 Stephanie Bschorr, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands pose for a family photo during the W20 women's empowerment summit sponsored by the G20 Group of 20 major economic powers on April 25, 2017 in Berlin. PHOTO: AFP
Ivanka Trump (left) and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for a meeting with US President Donald Trump and business leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, on March 17, 2017, in Washington, DC.
Ivanka Trump (left) and Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for a meeting with US President Donald Trump and business leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, on March 17, 2017, in Washington, DC.PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - One is a 62-year-old former physicist who grew up in a Lutheran parish house in East Germany. The other is a businesswoman whose billionaire property-developer father brought her from Manhattan to the White House.

While Angela Merkel and Ivanka Trump don't have a lot in common, Germany's chancellor is seeking out President Donald Trump's daughter as a back channel to moderate his views. 

Merkel was impressed with Ivanka Trump's seriousness on global issues when they first met at the White House in March, and hopes she'll be a conduit for influence, according to three German government officials.

An indication of the two women's personal chemistry will be on show in Berlin on Tuesday (April 25), when they share the stage at a forum of female leaders at Merkel's invitation. With the US administration's policies still in flux, Trump's family adviser is making the capital of Europe's biggest economy her first foreign destination as a presidential envoy.

How well she and Merkel bridge the gulf in their backgrounds may determine the tone of future relations between the US and Europe.

"This is typical Merkel - she works with what she has," said Andrea Roemmele, a political science professor at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Given Ivanka Trump's closeness to the president, "it's very wise of Merkel" to seek her out, said Roemmele. "That's what you call Realpolitik."

TRUMP'S BARBS

A working relationship with Trump is critical for Merkel as she defends German interests on trade, security guarantees for Europe and relations with Russia while seeking re-election to a fourth term in September.

After his daughter's trip to Berlin, Trump is due to encounter Merkel in Europe in May for meetings of Group of Seven (G-7) and Nato leaders. Then in July, Merkel hosts him and his Group of 20 (G-20) peers for a summit in Hamburg.

Trump and Merkel clashed over his calls for Germany to raise defence spending, while he criticised her immigration policy as a "catastrophic mistake." Yet once they met, they seemed to develop a rapport that contrasted with some of his public comments about Germany.

"It's funny: One of the best chemistries I had was with Merkel," Trump said in an interview with the Associated Press last week. He said he hadn't expected to get along with the chancellor, "because, um, I'm at odds on, you know, the Nato payments and I'm at odds on immigration. We had unbelievable chemistry."

GETTING ACQUAINTED

Ivanka Trump may help build on that relationship. A business graduate of elite schools who worked for her father's company and started her own fashion line, the president's 35-year-old daughter could hardly be more different from Merkel. The chancellor is a physicist-turned-politician who's been in power for almost 12 years, avoids glamour and rash gestures, and once told an interviewer that she makes "a pretty good potato soup."

At the White House, the two women got acquainted sitting next to each while co-hosting a roundtable discussion with US and German business executives on the importance of job training. Focused on one of Germany's industrial strengths, the event was a counterpoint to clashing rhetoric by the two leaders on trade and defence spending.

Merkel was struck by Ivanka Trump's elevated role and appreciated that she spoke up several times during the White House meetings, including on global health and women's leadership, according to two of the German officials. The chancellor tends to relate well to women, one of them said.

Two weeks later, Trump appointed his daughter as an unpaid assistant to the president, easing German concern that dealing with an unofficial family adviser might run afoul of diplomatic protocol.

On the eve of the first daughter's visit, Trump and Merkel discussed Syria, Yemen and "the urgent security challenge posed by North Korea" in a phone call, according to a White House statement. Trump also reaffirmed the administration's support for German-French peace efforts in eastern Ukraine.

'VERY HEARTENING'

In Berlin, Merkel and Ivanka Trump will take part in the Women20 summit, joining other women leaders including IMF chief Christine Lagarde in a discussion on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship, the White House said in a statement. To underscore their joint focus on education and skills training, they'll visit a Siemens AG job-training school. Also scheduled are a visit to Germany's Holocaust memorial, located a block south of the Brandenburg Gate, and a dinner at Deutsche Bank AG's office in the capital.

In an joint op-ed article in the Financial Times ahead of her trip, Ivanka Trump and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called for boosting women's participation in the global economy through measures including training, improved access to finance and changes in laws and regulations.

Merkel invited the president's daughter precisely because she expressed "great interest" in women's empowerment when they talked at the White House, Ulrike Demmer, a German government spokeswoman, said on Friday.

It's "very heartening" that Trump's daughter "evidently sees many shared interests with Germany," Juergen Hardt, a lawmaker in Merkel's Christian Democratic Union who helps coordinate trans-Atlantic relations for her government, said in e-mailed comments.

"It would be foolish not to put such a channel to use," Hardt said.