A head of government praises his daughter for a project to which he then provides millions of euros in support: It's the kind of situation that one is familiar with from autocratic systems ruled by family clans. But on Saturday morning in Hamburg, it was U.S. President Donald Trump making such a pledge.
"I'm very proud of my daughter Ivanka," Trump said during a joint presentation at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. "If she weren't my daughter, it would be so much easier for her. It might be the only bad thing she has going."
It's an absurd claim. To be sure, Ivanka Trump has her own fashion line and is a successful entrepreneur. But her last name isn't likely to have hurt her. And in Hamburg, Ivanka Trump was part of a presentation that she never would have participated in if she weren't the president's daughter. Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde - in addition to her father - Ivanka Trump introduced a fund to support women entrepreneurship in developing countries.
The fund was established within the framework of the so-called W-20 Initiative, which is dedicated to the economic support and equality of women. Merkel announced the fund in April during a conference in Berlin, in which Ivanka Trump also took part. In Hamburg, the details regarding the project's finances were announced on Saturday.
According to the announcement, a total of $325 million have now been raised. Donald Trump pledged a $50 million stake from the U.S. and additional contributions are coming from Canada, China and Germany. Merkel praised the project as "true added value."
Gaining the Ear of an Erratic President
Yet even those involved are showing caution with their initial assessment of the project. Claudia Grosse-Leege, of the Union of Female Entrepreneurs in Germany and also active in the W-20, says she welcomes the fund, but adds that there are still questions regarding how the money will actually be used. It is more important, she said, to promote structures that already exist. The G-20, she noted, had long been "gender blind," but this year's summit paid much more attention to women's rights issues than even just one year ago.
But the so-called Ivanka Fund isn't just helpful for the women who will ultimately benefit, it also provides a boost to the G-20 hostess Angela Merkel. Amid the extremely difficult negotiations with the U.S. president on other issues addressed by the summit, the joint project announced on Saturday served to lighten the mood. It was a bright spot for which Merkel was more than willing to accept a joint appearance with Trump and his daughter. It is, however, nevertheless the kind of event that will do little to counter accusations that the G-20 summit has little to do with democracy.
For Merkel, though, Ivanka presents an opportunity to gain the ear of a president who continues to act erratically. Normally, such influence is gained by way of close aides. But many key positions in the Trump administration have only recently been filled, if they have been filled at all. Trump's chief negotiator for the Hamburg summit, for example, was replaced only shortly before the G-20.
The influence wielded by the president's daughter was on full display on Saturday. At a G-20 summit meeting, she unexpectedly sat down at the negotiating table among the other heads of state and government and temporarily stood in for her father during the talks. And this despite the fact that Ivanka is only an adviser to the president and does not have an official government post.
White House Justification
The White House tried to justify the incident. "Ivanka was sitting in the back and then briefly joined the main table when the president had to step out," a Trump administration official told the news agency AFP. "When other leaders stepped out, their seats were also briefly filled by others," the official added. As Ivanka took her father's seat at the table, World Bank President Kim was reportedly just beginning to speak about the fund that bears her name.
But access to Trump is important for Kim as well. The Trump administration is skeptical of international development banks and is planning to cut U.S. support for such banks by 35 percent, according to its draft budget. Now, however, cuts to America's contributions to the World Bank are expected to be lower than initially feared.
Is that because of the Ivanka fund? Donald Trump, in any case, was full of praise for the World Bank head. He called Kim a "friend" and added: "I might have even appointed him, but I didn't."