Elections will take place in the USA in a few weeks. In Germany many hope for Joe Biden to win. But does the relationship with the USA automatically improve with the Democrats? Four conflicts remain.
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The trips of US President Donald Trump are an indicator of the state of German-American relations. The Republican was at the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July 2017, and at the end of 2018 a refueling stop led him to the US base in Ramstein. But Trump broke with the tradition of a bilateral visit to Germany in his first term of office – as the first US president in more than 50 years. Many hopes in Germany are now directed towards a victory for Democrat Joe Biden in the November 3rd election. Thaw is likely to break under Biden. However, this would not solve the bilateral conflicts.
Former MP: “Germany is one of our friends”
“The day Joe Biden is declared the winner will be the day relations will begin to improve,” says Democratic ex-Congressman Michael Capuano. “That does not mean that we will all just hold hands and love each other. But it does mean that we will return to normal standards of debates and discussions and also arguments among friends. And if Germany is not one of our friends, then it does not exist many countries that we can call that. “
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Under Trump, friendship was not so clear. “Apparently he has a particular aversion to the Chancellor, but also to Germany,” says Constanze Stelzenmüller from the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. “He probably doesn’t know what that is rooted in either.” The Biden camp is aware “that America’s position in the world has weakened – because of Trump, but not only because of Trump. They know that they need allies in Europe and above all like-minded democratic allies more than ever before . “
With Biden, the US wants to return to the Paris climate agreement
Trump relies on “America First”. The experienced foreign politician Biden – who was Vice President under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee as Senator – is committed to multilateral cooperation. Among other things, Biden promises to revise the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. While Trump threatened to leave NATO, Biden wants to strengthen the alliance.
Trump has openly attacked allies, especially Germany. Biden has announced that he will make diplomacy “the most important foreign policy tool”. Even if issues between Berlin and Washington were no longer publicly fought out under Biden, they would not be off the table. Some of Trump’s criticism of Germany is also shared in the Democratic camp. The main conflicts:
Dispute over gas pipeline to Russia
Nord Stream 2: Trump argues that Germany is being protected by the US, but at the same time is paying Russia “billions of dollars” for gas. The criticism of the Baltic Sea pipeline from Russia to Germany, however, is cross-party. In Congress, both Republicans and Democrats supported sanctions to stop the project. Even as US Vice President Biden called the pipeline “a fundamentally bad deal for Europe”.
Defense spending: Trump calls Germany “in default” because it does not meet NATO’s two percent target. This goal envisages that by 2024 all allies will come closer to spending at least two percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Biden points out that the Obama administration has already campaigned for NATO states to increase their defense spending. “Our allies should do their fair share.”
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US troops in Germany: In the dispute over German defense spending, Trump has announced the withdrawal of around a third of the US soldiers stationed in Germany. A Biden spokesman called this “a gift for Vladimir Putin” and announced that Biden would “review” the decision after an election victory. Experts doubt that it will be completely reversed. According to a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, almost two-thirds of Democrats are in favor of reducing the number of US troops in Germany as announced by Trump or even further.
Trade: Trump has started a trade conflict with the EU and repeatedly threatened punitive tariffs on car imports, which would particularly affect German manufacturers. Biden advisor Tony Blinken has announced that it will end the “artificial trade war”. But he also complained that there was “a growing imbalance in trade in agricultural goods due to rules that prevent us from selling goods on which we are very competitive”.
CDU politician: “I warn against rose-colored glasses”
In Berlin, therefore, there is no illusion that everything could turn out well in German-American relations if Biden wins. The Federal Government’s coordinator for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, emphasizes that Barack Obama’s presidency was not an easy one for Germany either. “I warn against the rose-colored glasses of transatlantic nostalgia,” says the CDU member of the Bundestag. At the time of Obama’s diplomatic upheaval, for example, Chancellor Merkel’s cell phone was tapped by the US secret service NSA.
However, Beyer pleads – like many others in the government camp in Berlin – to see the crisis in German-American relations as an opportunity. “Perhaps that’s not so bad after all, because we Germans and Europeans are being forced to look a little more parsimoniously into shaping our own economic and security future – not only with a view to the USA, but also to China”, he says. “We have to create a stronger, united Europe and then revitalize relations with the US.”
A strong Europe as an independent power between its partner USA in the west and system rivals China and Russia in the east: this vision is just not quite as easy to realize as one would like it to be in Berlin. The differences between the EU members in foreign policy are too great and the decision-making processes too cumbersome for that. In the case of major controversy between Germany and the USA such as Nord Stream 2 or defense spending, Trump – and in the future perhaps Biden – has Eastern European EU members such as Poland or the Baltic states on his side.