Politics

Merkel in the United States: “Germany must always give guarantees to ensure American friendship”

This is the start of Angela Merkel’s international farewell. The German Chancellor is received this Thursday by Joe Biden. The US president has only welcomed two foreign leaders to the White House since taking office: the Japanese, Yoshihide Suga and the South Korean, Moon Jae-in, the Asian allies of the United States. At the time of welcoming a European partner, honor to Germany, the traditional ally, even if the old alliance is peppered with disagreements.  

Interview with Paul Maurice, specialist on Germany, researcher at the Study Committee on Franco-German Relations (Cerfa) at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri)

RFI: Angela Merkel is the first European leader received at the White House since Joe Biden took office. What is the message of the American president?

Paul Maurice: By welcoming Angela Merkel, Joe Biden surely wants to show that he wants to rely on Germany for his European strategy . Emmanuel Macron had given signs to Joe Biden, he might have wished to be the gateway for the United States to Europe, but ultimately he is the traditional ally, Atlanticist since its creation in the time of the Federal Republic of ‘Germany, which was chosen by the United States. In a way, this is quite logical since by that very fact, Joe Biden kicks off the farewell tour of Angela Merkel, who will probably visit the European capitals before leaving power in the next fall.

The Washington-Berlin link experienced turbulence under the Trump era. Has the Trump period left its mark or is the relationship now calming?

The turmoil actually started under Obama. As part of a redefinition of American strategy, the United States had partly turned away from Europe to refocus on Asia. The Germans had partly paid the price, with, we can recall the very symbolic episode of listening to Angela Merkel’s cell phone. These developments were effectively reinforced during the Trump period, in particular by the decision to withdraw some of the American troops stationed in Germany. A gesture that had caused a lot of excitement in the German ruling political class, which relies on American support for its defense. The signals sent by Joe Biden, notably the cancellation of the military withdrawal, suggested that a honeymoon state was returning between Germany and the United States,the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline [which must carry Russian gas to Germany bypassing Ukraine, Editor’s note]. But everything comes at a time and it is possible that the consideration will be substantial for Germany.

What could be the counterpart?

These are only hypotheses, but we can consider several avenues. Negotiations so that Germany continues to support Ukraine, which would also constitute a message to European partners such as Poland and the Baltic countries, who see Russia as an adversary and a threat. The counterpart could also concern the trade negotiations between Germany, Europe and China, since the Chinese strategy of Joe Biden does not necessarily correspond to the German or European strategy. It could also be a question of strengthening transatlantic trade links, the energy transition, American energy products sent to Europe.

Is Angela Merkel’s next departure a source of uncertainty for the American ally? 

Indeed, and this invitation is perhaps, before this transition, a way of sounding out Germany, of showing that even if Germany will soon change leaders, the country in itself, the political class as a whole, remains a faithful ally. When the new government is in place in Germany, it will be necessary to observe how it positions itself vis-à-vis the United States in general and the Biden administration in particular. But the fact is that currently no political party that can rationally claim the chancellery or the government is in a logic of distrust vis-à-vis the United States. The transatlantic link, the Atlanticist attachment, is very strong in most German political parties.

Speaking of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Angela Merkel received Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, at the very beginning of the week. She assured that Ukraine would remain a transit country for Russian gas. Was this commitment to the Ukrainian Prime Minister also addressed to the Americans? 

Yes, and it is a change of logic and of discourse on the part of Angela Merkel, who had declared during the Munich security conference, that a Russian gas molecule, remains a Russian gas molecule, that it passes through the Baltic Sea or through the Ukraine. So it is also a commitment vis-à-vis the United States, which has made a commitment to guarantee Ukraine this important financial resource represented by the transit of Russian gas. We are perhaps already seeing the first signs of the negotiations that must have been held between the United States and Germany, with the maintenance of American troops, the support of the United States and the lifting of sanctions against the companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. In a way, the

The other issue that will be discussed during this meeting is cyber attacks. What is the stake of cooperation between the United States and Germany in this area? 

The stakes can be high since the Germans do not necessarily have the technologies, the resources to manage these cyberattacks, especially Russian ones. Major attacks have already targeted the Bundestag, the German Parliament. The support and assistance of the United States at the forefront in this area, can be invaluable to the Germans who will surely suffer this type of attack during the election campaign. Destabilization campaigns could target candidates who are too critical of Russia. The United States has the resources to act, and is partly located in Europe and in particular in Berlin. So this will be invaluable support for Germany.

As you said, this is Angela Merkel’s last trip to the United States as Chancellor. In 16 years, she will have worked with four presidents. In the end, what is the outcome? 

It’s complicated since Angela Merkel has known presidents with very different personalities and in very different geopolitical situations. She knew a George Bush at the end of his mandate. A relationship under tension since Angela Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, refused to participate in the intervention in Iraq in 2003. A position contrary to that of the traditional ally that was Germany, and therefore the United States and Germany were cold. Angela Merkel has tried in part to reconnect with George Bush, but without sending troops. Under Obama, there was a communion of thought around the defense of liberal democracy, multilateralism, free trade, etc. But relations grew strained when President Obama moved away from Europe to move closer to Asia. Then came the cases of espionage by the United States, German leaders including Angela Merkel. Of course, the Trump presidency is the one that has bothered Germany the most. Trump did not stop showing Angela Merkel that she represented his exact opposite since she represented stability, calm, temperance vis-à-vis his exaggerations. He saw her in a way as his most important political opponent. With Biden, it will be short, but ultimately it’s a bit like under Obama. A communion of spirit, since Biden takes up certain themes of Obama, but we will not have time to see these two leaders put things in place. Of course, the Trump presidency is the one that has bothered Germany the most. Trump did not stop showing Angela Merkel that she represented his exact opposite since she represented stability, calm, temperance vis-à-vis his exaggerations. He saw her in a way as his most important political opponent. With Biden, it will be short, but ultimately it’s a bit like under Obama. A communion of spirit, since Biden takes up certain themes of Obama, but we will not have time to see these two leaders put things in place. Of course, the Trump presidency is the one that has bothered Germany the most. Trump did not stop showing Angela Merkel that she represented his exact opposite since she represented stability, calm, temperance vis-à-vis his exaggerations. He saw her in a way as his most important political opponent. With Biden, it will be short, but ultimately it’s a bit like under Obama. A communion of spirit, since Biden takes up certain themes of Obama, but we will not have time to see these two leaders put things in place. He saw her in a way as his most important political opponent. With Biden, it will be short, but ultimately it’s a bit like under Obama. A communion of spirit, since Biden takes up certain themes of Obama, but we will not have time to see these two leaders put things in place. He saw her in a way as his most important political opponent. With Biden, it will be short, but ultimately it’s a bit like under Obama. A communion of spirit, since Biden takes up certain themes of Obama, but we will not have time to see these two leaders put things in place.

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