For 36 years, Merkel lived under the East German regime aligned with the USSR, and for 16 years as Chancellor of Germany, she attended over 100 summits, overcame four US presidents, overcame a global financial crisis, opened the doors of his country to more than a million refugees in the summer of 2015, and survived Brexit.
If there is a Merkel doctrine, it is based on survival: stand up and compromise, because the alternative is worse.
With their deep and shared belief in democracy, diplomacy, and international solutions to great political challenges, President Joe Biden and Merkel are instinctive partners.
“She’s a great friend, a personal friend and a friend of the United States,” Biden said as Merkel arrived in the Oval Office on Thursday for a bilateral meeting that lasted two hours. “She knows the Oval Office as well as I do,” he later added at a joint press conference.
White House officials speak of Merkel with respect – the kind of flowery praise reserved for an icon who is the longest-serving leader of NATO, the G-7 and the EU. Merkel first joined the German cabinet in 1991, with the reunification of Germany, a decade before Biden chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and when some of his top foreign policy advisers were still in college.
Speaking at her last White House press conference before stepping down shortly after September 26, Merkel admitted that her usual survival strategy would not be enough for the transatlantic alliance to succeed in the future.
“Simply committing to these values is certainly not enough,” she said, just minutes after committing to a so-called “Washington Declaration” on opposition to democratic retreat, and urging joint efforts on issues including climate change. “We need to translate these values into practical policies,” Merkel said.
What is not said: it will be up to his successor to create these solutions.
When asked when he would be traveling to Germany, Biden replied “soon, I hope”. Biden’s next scheduled trip to Europe will be for the G-20 leaders’ summit in Rome in October. There he will likely meet Armin Laschet, of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, who is preferred to replace her as chancellor. Or maybe Annalena Baerbock, the Greens candidate propelled her party to the top of the national polls briefly in May.
Merkel inherited a frosty US-German relationship in 2005 from her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, a vocal opponent of the Iraq war. After a German love affair with President Barack Obama – sealed when he spoke in front of a crowd of hundreds of thousands in Berlin while still a candidate – the relationship hit new post-war lows starting in 2017, as President Donald Trump accused Germany of going after the U.S. military and disrupted d ‘countless summits where Merkel was previously in court.
As US-German relations returned to a stable state in 2021, there is a significant disagreement in the inner workings of politics.
There is broad agreement that the two countries should aim for strong democratic institutions, net zero carbon emissions, an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, and common policies on Russia and China – but no plans on how to get there.
On Thursday, Merkel didn’t get the answer she wanted even on her most basic question: Would the Biden administration lift the travel ban imposed on Europeans entering the United States since March 2020? In fact, she got no response at all. Biden told reporters he would give a response “in the next few days.”
Similarly, Biden did not get the answer he wanted on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline he is pitting between Russia and Germany.
Merkel stubbornly supported the construction of the pipeline despite strong opposition from Washington and Brussels, but left open the possibility of sanctions against Russia if it acts against Ukraine’s territorial integrity or stops selling gas through the pipelines. Ukrainian. “Our idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas and that Ukraine retains the right to territorial integrity,” Merkel told reporters.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) Led Republicans’ calls on Thursday for Biden to step up pressure on Merkel, given the pipeline is expected to open as early as August. Biden withdrew in May from imposing sanctions on the company building the pipeline.
A senior administration official defended the move Wednesday as giving Washington and Berlin “diplomatic space” to minimize the negative impacts of the pipeline. Passing under the Baltic Sea, the gas pipeline bypasses Ukraine, which depends on Russian royalties gas passing through its territory to finance its defense and other public services.
Rubio said in a letter to Biden that his administration’s decision to lift sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG, the company that is building the pipeline, “will only endanger our democratic allies in Eastern and Central Europe and embolden the president. Russian Vladimir Putin in his aggression, “and insisted that there is bipartisan support in Congress to prevent the completion of the pipeline.
Germany has its own doubts about US policy. After years of falling short of a common NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defense, two recent US moves have allowed Germany to sideline Washington in defense talks.
First, Trump announced at the end of 2020 that the United States would withdraw 12,000 troops stationed in Germany – a decision Biden later overturned. Then in April, Biden announced the total withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, without first consulting Berlin, which had the second largest foreign military presence in the country.
On China, Merkel pushed for an EU-China investment deal that was signed just weeks before Biden’s inauguration, and refused to block Huawei’s involvement in the country’s 5G mobile networks. His best offer Thursday: “wherever human rights are not guaranteed, we will make our voices heard.”
Climate change and Covid-19 were the other recurring themes of Merkel’s visit, and she brought her scientific background to the discussions.
At Johns Hopkins University, Merkel urged her audience to “stay vigilant” against Covid-19 despite the pandemic “wearing us out”.
Describing climate change as “the challenge of our time”, Merkel directly linked climate change to “the dramatic increase in unusual weather conditions” – including the recent wildfires and heat waves in the United States and the United States. floods in Germany. She proudly highlighted Germany’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2045, under the aegis of the European Union’s carbon market, the largest in the world.
In the absence of binding federal climate goals in the United States or a carbon market, Merkel suggested that American innovation would be key to tackling climate change, predicting “a profound transformation in our way of life, that does not work without innovation ”.
But Merkel admitted that she might struggle with her own profound transformation to come: as a private citizen.
Asked by Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, about his life plans after his term in office, Merkel said: “I don’t know. I’m so used to what I’m doing now. I’m a little afraid that no one wants to see me anymore.