HANOVER, Germany — President Obama arrived Sunday in Germany, where he will encounter a Europe struggling with terrorism, an anemic economy and an unprecedented migrant crisis that have provoked nationalism and xenophobia in some quarters of the continent.
“It’s not my place to tell Europe how to manage Europe,” Obama said in Bild Zeitung, a German newspaper, prior to his arrival.
But the president has used his tour of Britain and Germany to provide some unusually frank advice to the Europeans on issues such as dealing with refugees, major trade deals and terrorism. In the United Kingdom, where Britons will go to the polls in June to vote on whether to remain in the European Union, Obama warned repeatedly — in an editorial, a news conference and a BBC interview — that a withdrawal from the bloc would be unwise.
He arrives in Germany at a moment when German Chancellor Angela Merkel, his closest overseas ally, is under unprecedented pressure due in part to her strong advocacy for migrants pouring into Europe at levels not seen since World War II.
Under a deal that Merkel brokered late last month with the Turkish government, virtually all of the migrants who attempt to enter Europe via the Aegean Sea — including Syrians — will be sent back to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey gets $6.6 billion and the promise of jump-started talks on its E.U. membership. Merkel also has played an essential role in maintaining European unity for tough sanctions designed to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. She has been an advocate for a far-reaching trade deal between the United States and Europe — the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — that has drawn fierce opposition from some Germans.
Obama was fulsome in his praise for the German leader, saying that he had worked with “her longer and closer than any other world leader.” “She’s pragmatic and focused on what’s actually possible,” Obama told Bild Zeitung. “I trust her.”
He called her leadership on the migrant crisis “courageous.”
“She’s demonstrated real political and moral leadership,” Obama told the Germany newspaper. “We cannot simply shut our doors to our fellow human beings when they are in such desperate need. That would be a betrayal of our values.”
The president has had less-kind words for other European leaders in recent months. In an interview with the Atlantic magazine, Obama complained that European countries were depending too heavily on the United States for their security, calling them “free riders“ and worrying about the state of the European Union.
“I wouldn’t describe European unity as in a crisis, but I would say it is under strain,” Obama said at a news conference in London.
On Monday, Obama is expected to speak at the Hanover Messe, a massive German trade show, on Europe’s future and the importance of its partnership with the United States. After the speech, he will huddle with the leaders of Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Germany at an impromptu summit organized by Merkel.