15.07.2021 – 06:55
When Angela Merkel first visited Washington in her role as German chancellor, she was warmly welcomed by President George W. Bush.
In 2006, both leaders were trying to heal the divisions between their nations following open criticism of the United States war in Iraq by its predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.
On Thursday, Merkel is visiting the White House for the last time before retiring after the German federal election in September.
The agenda is full.
She will receive an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University. President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will host a dinner at the White House for Merkel and her husband, Joachim Sauer, a professor of theoretical chemistry. There will be bilateral talks as well as discussions and a press conference.
Biden is the fourth US president to welcome Merkel to Washington and many things have changed during her 16-year term.
In 2006, Bush and Merkel were widely hailed as politically savvy, and it was understood that she would have been more sympathetic than Schroeder to Bush policy in Iraq.
But Bush and Merkel also had their differences.
As often, there were squabbles between Germany and the United States over NATO. Bush backed an offer from the former Soviet satellite states of Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance, an idea that Merkel and many of her European colleagues opposed.
In a spectacular showdown at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, delegations from the United States and Germany openly mistreated each other in the corridors.
When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, Merkel’s response was initially cold.
She had already established a close relationship with Hillary Clinton and found it difficult. But his charisma eventually influenced. It was Obama who awarded Merkel the highest civilian award in the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in June 2011 – an honor only one other German has ever received, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, her political mentor.
Transatlantic relations then took a heavy toll in 2013 when it emerged that the National Security Agency had tapped the phones of more than 30 world leaders, including Merkel.
However, Merkel’s biggest diplomatic challenge came with former President Donald Trump.
The latter’s ego had already been damaged by the fact that Merkel had been named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2015, for Trump’s great annoyance (“They chose the person who is destroying Germany,” he wrote on Twitter).
The two leaders clashed over everything from climate change to Germany’s contributions to NATO.
Where images of Merkel with Bush and Obama were dominated by smiles, kisses and handshakes, the most iconic image of Merkel and Trump would remain the one where the German chancellor leaned on a table to address a seated American president with her arms folded. crossed gaze.
How significant is Thursday’s meeting?
There are many contentious issues, including pandemics, cybersecurity, and climate change.
Perhaps the most important issue is the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is now being completed.
The United States fears the pipeline will make Germany highly dependent on Russia and jeopardize the energy security of Eastern European countries.
While Merkel has been honored to be the first European leader to visit the new president at the White House, the meeting is unlikely to do more than expected over the “rifts” in transatlantic relations.
There will be friendly words for the German leader who will be leaving soon and lots of rhetoric about closer cooperation between the two nations.
The difficult task of finding a concrete way forward for both allies will fall on Merkel’s successor.
This is likely to be Armin Laschet, who earlier this year was elected leader of her Christian Democratic Union, but has no Merkel experience.
Serious US-German talks will be postponed until the end of the year. This visit is mainly about Chancellor Merkel saying “auf Wiedersehen” (Goodbye).
Katja Hoyer, an Anglo-German historian and journalist, is the author of Blood and Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German Empire 1871-1918.
Translated and adapted by The Washington Post / konica.al