Saturday 31st October 2020
Relations between the US and Germany have never been as bad since the end of World War II as they were under President Trump. This could get worse if he won the election, people in Berlin fear. Even with Biden, things won’t be easy.
Donald Trump has definitely achieved one thing in four years in office: When German politicians look to the US presidential election today, the judgments are very cautious. “In 2016, many burned their fingers at the time by anticipating an election victory for Hillary Clinton and laughing at Trump,” says a German diplomat. Then Trump became President – and shot at Germany as a political opponent in Europe.
Today hardly anyone in Berlin wants to make predictions about the outcome of the 2020 election. The consequences of US President Trump’s term of office for the transatlantic relationship, on the other hand, can be clearly seen in all surveys: According to a Forsa survey for the Munich Security Conference, 69 percent of respondents in this country find that Germany is now too cautious about the USA – across the board political spectrum.
Trump will no longer be another
There is also broad agreement on another point: Whoever will sit in the White House in the future – nothing will be the same as it used to be. “Either way, Trump or Biden: The expectations of Germany are (…) very high to lead politically,” says the federal government’s transatlantic coordinator, Peter Beyer. If Trump wins, it will “not be easier” for Chancellor Angela Merkel, he says, referring to the tense transatlantic relationship since 2016.
Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, is clearer: In a second term of office of Trump there would be “another disinhibition in foreign policy,” he tweeted. Even in the federal government there are few supporters of the thesis that Trump would work more closely with the Europeans and the Germans if he were re-elected. According to diplomats, hopes of the 74-year-old’s ability to change have been steadily declining since 2016.
The Union’s foreign policy spokesman, Jürgen Hardt, nevertheless advises trying to “reset” if Trump wins the election. The federal government should then offer Trump talks on trade, climate, Africa, China and NATO.
Biden has to go home
If the Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins, Germany will have a greater responsibility, expect all the politicians and diplomats interviewed. In the event of an election victory, Biden would first have to take care of healing the domestic political wounds in the USA and could therefore not be so active internationally, believes transatlantic coordinator Beyer. So in the western world, eyes would increasingly be on Germany.
The Chancellor will remain at the helm of a country “which has very high expectations” for another year. “That is what will come very strongly and very quickly.” “We could count on rationality in dealing with problems again,” Hardt is sure. The Federal Government is also betting that with Biden, who thinks multilaterally, it will again be easier to solve international problems. Hardt believes that Biden can immediately score points with the Europeans because he is likely to commit to the Paris climate treaty. “The crowning glory would be if he immediately withdrew the punitive tariffs imposed on the EU by Trump.”
Conflicts of interest remain
But Biden will demand something in return, people in Berlin are certain. “Many Americans have the feeling that in the past few decades they have received much less from the world than they have given,” says the Union’s foreign affairs spokesman. The criticism is also justified, for example in security policy. The advantage with Biden is that his supporters do not expect a course of conflict with Europe. “On the contrary: he could be interested in having Europe as an ally in a defense against China.” This comes at a time when Europeans are also rethinking their relationship with China.
“But Europe must not have false expectations: ‘America first’ will continue to apply and US foreign policy will remain guided by interests,” warns the FDP’s foreign policy spokesman, Bijan Djir-Sarai. In the future, Germany will have to invest more in its own security and assume more responsibility. In addition, the next US president will concentrate more on China and East Asia in the future. “Differences in content such as Nord Stream 2, the nuclear deal with Iran or trade issues will also remain,” he says.
The Greens foreign politician, Omid Nouripour, is also without illusions. Trump did not respect European and German sovereignty. “The lesson from this is that Europe must finally stand on its own two feet at all levels so that we are not helplessly exposed to the fluctuations in the White House,” he emphasized. “No matter who the next US president is.”