The head of Nato has spoken admiringly of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s capacity for white wine, telling interviewers in his native Norway that when the two unwind over drinks with other politicians, “let’s put it this way: she isn’t the first to leave.”
Jens Stoltenberg told Aftenposten journalists Trine Eilertsen and Harald Stanghelle that he had enjoyed socialising with Angela Merkel over drinks “many times”.
“She drinks white wine, and I drink beer,” he said. “I am very impressed by her stamina. We had a very good evening in Stralsund [a German coastal town where Merkel hosted a summit in 2012]. ”
Angela Merkel (AFP/Getty Images)
Mr Stoltenberg, who served as Norway’s Prime Minister from 2005 until 2013, told the two interviewers that the German chancellor and himself had developed a strong personal relationship during long and gruelling negotiations over climate change, pointing in particular to “those long nights in Copenhagen in 2009”.
“That gives you a kind of chemistry, a kind of closeness,” he said. “Obama is also someone I have met many times. I think it was those two who supported me as a candidate for [Nato] General Secretary.”
Mr Stoltenberg said that, like him, Ms Merkel had also first been first elected in 2005, further strengthening their bond.
The Nato Secretary General’s description of the German chancellor’s sociable side clashes somewhat with the common perception of her as quiet, unemotional, analytical, and even a little boring.
She is, however, frequently photographed clutching a glass of white wine, or raising it in a toast.
Mr Stoltenberg was back in Norway this week to lobby the centre-right government to increase defence spending to bring it closer to the Nato target of two percent of GDP, a difficult task give his own record as prime minister of prioritising spending on social welfare and education.
In a speech to the University of Oslo, Mr Stoltenberg denied that the Europe had entered a new Cold War.
“We are neither in a Cold War or in the strategic partnership that we wish to create. We are somewhere in between, it’s hard to put a name on it,” he said.
In a meeting on Friday with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, he asked Norway to consider joining Nato’s joint missile defence system.
“We have put the topic on the table without coming to any conclusion,” he said in a press conference after his meeting. “Some countries have missiles that can defend against incoming missile attacks, but there are also many other kinds of capacities — missile detecting radars and protection by sea vessels — which are also valuable contributions. There are many ways to contribute.”
On a trip back his home country in March, Mr Stoltenberg bemoaned the lack of a “culture of jokes” at Nato’s Brussels headquarters, saying it had been one of the hardest things to adjust to after taking up the post of Secretary General in October.
“So now I’ve stopped joking,” he told chat show host Fredrik Skavlan.
When he was asked in the interview which political leaders he enjoyed good personal chemistry with, Mr Stoltenberg was at first reluctant to answer.
“That’s a dangerous question, because it implies I have bad chemistry with others,” he said.
He dismissed the public perception of political leaders as cold, Machiavellian careerists, saying that in general they were easy to get on with behind the scenes.
“Political leaders are mainly sociable, nice people, otherwise they wouldn’t have been elected,” he said. “It’s easy to make friends.”