September 19, 2021

Angela Merkel in Washington for a farewell to the taste of unfinished business

Farewell to the taste of unfinished business: Joe Biden received Angela Merkel on Thursday, July 15, in a frankly peaceful climate between the two countries, even if Washington has so far failed to convince Berlin to adopt a firmer tone against Russia and China.

The German Chancellor was first received in the morning for a working breakfast by Vice-President Kamala Harris, who welcomed her ‘extraordinary career’ by welcoming her.

Angela Merkel said she was ‘delighted to meet the first vice-president’ in the history of the United States.

It was then received by the US President at 2 p.m. (6 p.m. GMT). First European leader to be received into the White House since the election of Joe Biden, Angela Merkel underlined, in a short statement from the Oval Office, the role of the United States in building a free and democratic Germany and welcomed this ‘good opportunity to discuss the German-American relationship’ and the ‘geopolitical challenges’ of the moment.

‘The cooperation between the United States and Germany is strong and we hope to continue this, and I am confident that we will,’ said Joe Biden.

The conservative leader, in power since November 2005 and who will step down after the legislative elections in September, has seen four American presidents succeed one another: George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and, for a few months, Joe Biden.

She was even sometimes called, during Trump’s tumultuous tenure, ‘leader of the free world’, a term generally reserved for the tenant of the White House.

Joe Biden’s Calming Gesture on the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline

Germany was recently called America’s ‘best friend’ by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and relations have improved dramatically since the change of administration in Washington.

Joe Biden in particular buried a project of his predecessor which had deeply shocked Germany. Donald Trump, who during his presidency stepped up personal attacks against Angela Merkel, had decided to withdraw a third of American troops from the country.

But all is not rosy between Washington and Berlin, and the Chancellor leaves open a certain number of delicate files. The biggest dispute is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea without passing through Ukraine. He is supported by Berlin, but much criticized in Washington and in Eastern Europe.

President Joe Biden ‘will express his concern’ to the Chancellor and insist on developing ‘mechanisms so that energy is not used against Ukraine’, according to the senior official in his administration. But this same source ‘does not expect an announcement’ Thursday.

In a gesture of appeasement, the Biden administration had decided not to sanction the main players in Nord Stream 2, which ‘gives us diplomatic leeway’ to discuss with Berlin, according to the American source.

Convince Berlin to take a hard line with Moscow and Beijing

In general, Joe Biden ‘needs Angela Merkel and especially her successor to have a less wobbly attitude towards Russia and China’, according to Sudha David-Wilp, of the German Marshall Fund, a center for studies of relations transatlantic.

Washington would like Europe’s largest economy, so concerned with its wealthy exports, to put its commercial interests on hold in favor of a more aggressive diplomatic stance.

However, Angela Merkel is, above all, a follower of consensus. She tried to organize a European summit with Vladimir Putin, before giving up in the face of opposition from several members of the European Union.

The Chancellor is also campaigning for an investment agreement between the EU and China, where Washington would like to convince the Europeans to adopt its hard line against Beijing.

Nothing says that the conservative candidate Armin Laschet, big favorite in the September election, will take a different line if he becomes chancellor.

Trump’s open hostility has forced Germany to question the unhealthy aspects of its dependence on Americans. (Joe) Biden, on the contrary, wants to treat the Germans as a real partner, ‘Constanze Stelzenmüller, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in the Financial Times. ‘This is, it seems, almost asking too much of them.’