Contrary to what was previously announced, Angela Merkel has not made a clear pro-transatlantic policy. In an interview, US expert Stephan-Götz Richter explains why Americans are disappointed with the Chancellor.
The publicist Stephan-Götz Richter is editor-in-chief of the online magazine “The Globalist” and director of the Global Ideas Center in Berlin.
t-online: Mr. Richter, as an expert you have been observing the USA for decades. In 16 years, Angela Merkel has seen four US presidents. How do you rate your last visit to Joe Biden in Washington, DC? Is the German-American relationship still the best possible at the end of your term of office?
Stephan-Götz Richter: It is exciting that for Angela Merkel’s last visit to Washington, of all things, the Greens, from the point of view of the Biden administration, must be seen as the best allies in terms of foreign policy. They share the same opinion on the important issues, whether it’s human rights in China, Nord Stream 2 in Russia, or the climate. Usually, Ms. Merkel has always been very careful to get along well with good US presidents. The current problem is: Even before Biden took office, she offended him with the conclusion of the EU-China treaty, the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. And it made this move against a US government that, thanks to Joe Biden and his foreign minister Antony Blinken, is probably the most European-friendly that we will probably see.
Why is that a problem?
Angela Merkel has always emphasized that as a young woman in GDR times she saw herself connected to America in the pursuit of freedom. The fact that it then set itself at Nord Stream 2, a crucial setting of the course, almost equidistant between the USA and Russia and is also taking a counter course with China, is a surprising development – also for the Americans. It is irritating that Merkel attaches so little importance to the idea of freedom that she repeatedly propagates, especially in China, but rather focuses on the interests of the German automotive industry.
When Angela Merkel was still the opposition leader in 2003, she surrendered on the question of the Iraq war by George Bush against the course of the Schröder government. So your commitment to the USA is no longer that clear?
The USA has always assumed that the CDU, almost reflexively and without thinking, always endorses the position of the best ally. That is clearly no longer the case. This has led to great disappointment in Washington. Especially when you have the love story between Barack Obama and Angela Merkel in your head.
What do you mean?
Obama and Merkel were two soulmates in politics. But they have always given a wide berth to solving crucial questions. With Obama it was the issue of racism, with Angela Merkel, for example, the issues of migration, digitization or administrative reform. It did not deliver what was necessary.
Stephan-Götz Richter (Source: The Globalist)
But why is that important for the transatlantic relationship?
When Merkel took office, one could have assumed that she would have governed very “American” – that is, proactively. It was about democracy, economic growth, technology, climate, renewable energies and much more. But what happened to it? Almost everywhere we as a nation have stood on the spot. This will now have a negative impact on Germany. It is quite possible that the Americans will come to Potte in the private sector much faster than we do in the private sector. At that time, we had a technological lead in renewable energies. But today we don’t even manage to build power lines. And the Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier announced that we will need significantly more electricity than previously assumed as a result of the energy transition. If Angela Merkel had done her homework, we could have built a fantastic axis to the USA.
What else can we expect from the meeting with Biden? Will this be an unofficial handover to a future Chancellor Armin Laschet?
Basically, it’s just a short farewell visit with an attempt to fix a little something on Nord Stream 2 if it works. But even if everything should appear in a beautiful shine on the outside, including another honorary doctorate for the Federal Chancellor, one thing is absolutely clear: Merkel is a Lame Duck who has smashed capital with her China policy. As for their potential successor, the Americans are watching with great concern the appeasement-oriented talk of Armin Laschet, even when he says he is mainly European. For the transatlantic relationship, this means in case of doubt: Everything will continue as before. There is no close alliance, although one could have expected it, especially after Donald Trump.
From the Americans’ point of view, is it not understandable that the Europeans are warned after Trump and that they anticipate that the USA could fail again?
Of course, one must also expect such a tragic turn in American history. But apart from the talk of “strategic autonomy”, little is happening in Europe in this regard. And the Democratic Americans are clearly in a sweat of fear because a republican blockade policy in the US Congress could already unhinge them. But it would have been all the more important to plan specifically what Germany and the EU could do together with the Americans. And there the CDU – despite all the fuss à la Altmaier – is more on the SPD course. I cannot see the differences between Armin Laschet and Heiko Maas.
What exactly do the Americans expect?
The US doesn’t have great expectations. Under Angela Merkel you saw that the Germans mostly messed around. And they’ll keep pushing around. George Bush’s father had already called on Germany to assume a stronger leadership role for Europe as well. We have not done that until today because we preferred to represent our own interests, which has not led to more trust among our European partners.