The fact that Angela Merkel is once again received by the American president just a few weeks before the end of her chancellery is a signal of great symbolic power. Joe Biden doesn’t just honor a woman for whom the United States has always been a personal place of nostalgia and the anchor of its foreign policy. It also brings together two allied countries between which the last ice age reigned. This is excellent news, also and especially for the German economy. All’s well That ends well?
Not at all. Anyone who thinks that after Donald Trump’s four years of chaos, economic policy can simply pick up where it left off in early 2017 under President Barack Obama and his Vice President Biden, is wrong. The United States has changed, the world has changed – and Germany will have to change too.
What is noticeable first is that, under Biden, the United States has a friendlier tone and more willing to compromise, but continues to pursue an economic policy strictly focused on the national interest. This is shown, for example, by the presidential program “Buy American!”
The same goes for tariffs on European steel, which remain in place despite Trump’s departure. While Biden knows the taxes have done the U.S. economy more harm than good, he also uses them as political leverage. The EU must respond. Either by including punitive tariffs as a normal instrument in their political arsenal of torture, or by finding other ways to counter American pressure. This is a central issue, especially for Germany as an exporting nation, as hardly anything would hurt it more than another customs arms race.
If the US fails again, the Europeans will have to deal with it alone in an emergency
Europe must also completely readjust its relations with China, because here too there is no question of going back to the family days of Obama. For two decades, the People’s Republic lived well as the US and Europe accompanied their rise and constant rule-breaking in a friendly and gentle manner, even pitting themselves against each other. The latest example is the EU-China investment agreement of last December, which the EU should never have concluded at the time.
China (and besides also Russia) live from the conflict within Europe and between the EU and the USA, they want to ridicule democracy, undermine it and replace it with an autocratic system. A system in which only the rights of the strongest apply, in which human rights play no role and the protection of the environment is at best an image factor. It would be a disaster for the German economy, as it thrives on open markets, clear rules and transparent market access rules, which are more important than any short-term commercial interest. Such a fair world trading system can only be restored if the West is united and its free democratic ideas are so appealing to third countries that the autocrats and planned economists of the world stand no chance against them.
But as important as a close alliance with the United States is for Germany, it is not enough, because even six months after Trump left, the United States is a very fragile entity that could collapse again with it. next year’s congressional elections. Germany and Europe therefore need an economic-political framework which is based on cooperation with the USA, but which in case of doubt is stable even without the Americans. If China does not want to dominate global economic policy and the United States is temporarily unable to determine the direction because misguided Trump admirers take command in Congress, only the EU remains to intervene. This is exactly what Merkel needs to make Washington understand: that Europe, Germany first and foremost, is ready to cooperate – and, if necessary, able to go it alone.