For the last time Angela Merkel flew to the USA as Federal Chancellor. Her relationship with the country changed with each president. This was not always made clear in public.
Angela Merkel will hardly show much sadness when she is received by the new US President Joe Biden this Thursday. It should be her farewell visit as Chancellor in Washington, because Merkel will no longer run in the federal election at the end of September. But there are too many important topics on the agenda for the Chancellor, who is known for her sobriety, to allow herself something like sentimentalism towards the end of her term of office.
Merkel and Biden are likely to be looking ahead and optimistic when the Chancellor is welcomed back to the White House for the first time in three years. After the difficult years with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, the visit is intended to mark a new German-American beginning, even if dealing with some difficult topics has not really become easier with Biden, such as dealing with China, the dispute over tariffs or the Future of the World Trade Organization WTO.
Biden is no stranger to Merkel
It’s also a meeting between old acquaintances: Merkel and Biden know each other well from the American’s time as Vice-President of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama between 2009 and 2017. The president, who has only been in office since January, and the long-time chancellor also worked before the Reise determined to emphasize above all the new old transatlantic similarities. The new start in relationships has long since begun.
Last month, Merkel and Biden met in person at the G7 summit of leading western industrial nations in Cornwall, England, for the first time since Biden took office – previously there were only phone calls and video switching due to the corona pandemic. The discussions were “very good, constructive and also very lively,” said Merkel afterwards.
“Connections stronger than ever”
Even if she did not name Trump, it could be understood as a swipe at the ex-president and his political style, which is not exactly known as constructive. After the meeting, Biden wrote enthusiastically on Twitter: “The connections between our two nations are stronger than ever.”
The large train station that Biden Merkel is now preparing shows how much he values the Chancellor – and how important good relations with Germany are to him. After the usual talks – first in a very small circle, then together with the delegations – and a press conference, the President and First Lady Jill Biden will host a dinner in the White House in honor of the Chancellor, Merkel’s husband Joachim Sauer will also take part. Breakfast is also planned with Vice President Kamala Harris.
Soon after his inauguration, Biden sent signals of reconciliation to Berlin. So he put the withdrawal of US troops from Germany ordered by Trump on hold. He also waived far-reaching sanctions against the German-Russian Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2. Such punitive measures would have had a negative impact on “US relations with Germany, the EU and other European allies and partners,” it said.
Four US presidents in 16 years as chancellor
Merkel flew over the Atlantic to the United States more than 20 times during her time as Chancellor. Biden is the fourth US president she has seen in almost 16 years in office.
From Merkel’s meeting with the Texan Bush, the pictures from her visit to his ranch in Crawford in 2007 will have stuck in their minds. The issues from then are still topical: the long-lasting US engagement in the fight against climate change, the – now almost ended – military operation in Afghanistan as a reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the USA, the nuclear dispute with Iran.
Merkel and Obama were never very close – even if this was sometimes publicly staged in a similar way. It began with the fact that Obama, as an election campaigner, was not allowed to speak at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin as requested in 2008, he had to go to the nearby Victory Column. Obama, who is extremely popular in Germany, was only allowed to speak there during his first visit as President in the summer of 2013 – at the invitation of the Chancellor, who was campaigning at the time.
There was a crack in relations in autumn 2013 when it became known that the US secret service NSA had also tapped Merkel’s cell phone for years. There is still no solution to the crises at that time, such as the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
Donald Trump: Low point in the German-American relationship
With Trump, there was a low point during Merkel’s tenure in what used to be traditionally good German-American relations. The reason: the “America first” policy of the then President. His aversion to multilateral organizations such as the United Nations or the WTO stood in stark contrast to Merkel’s convictions, which she also made him feel. Trump last received Merkel on April 27, 2018 in the White House. It will not be forgotten how the Chancellor rummaged through her documents demonstratively when Trump publicly listed his points of criticism – such as the far too small contribution Berlin made to NATO in his view.
The fact that Trump clearly lost the election to Biden last November also provided relief for many Germans. In a survey by the Pew Institute last year, only ten percent were confident that Trump was doing the right thing with regard to world events. Biden, on the other hand, has enjoyed a gigantic leap of faith with the Germans since taking office: For him, this figure has skyrocketed to 78 percent.
Even if Merkel is now on a farewell visit to Biden: The Washington trip is unlikely to be her last trip to the USA. The Chancellor, who grew up in the GDR, has always had a special relationship with the United States. In a speech in the US Senate in 2009, she had already said: “My life plans always looked like I had considered that on the day I became a pensioner – and women in the GDR were 60 – that I will travel to the Federal Republic of Germany that day, exchange my GDR ID there for a proper German passport and then immediately set off on a trip to America. “