Constantin Eckner

Berlin is banking on Biden

Berlin is banking on Biden
(Photo by Steffen Kugler-Bundesregierung-Pool via Getty Images)
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Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, has said he wants to revitalise his country's relationship with the United States following the presidential election. Tensions between the Trump-led White House and Berlin have been rising for years — to the point where, during the campaign, Trump told his supporters that ‘Germany wants me out’, mentioning the long-time transatlantic partner in the same breath as China and Iran.

Trump may be right with his assessment. Chancellor Angela Merkel and her German officials have been put off by Trump’s erratic behaviour, with regular briefings against the President emanating from the Chancellery. Trump, in return, has often accused Germany of not committing enough financial resources to military investments, while also criticising Germany’s relationship with Russia in light of the construction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. 

‘We want a new deal in this partnership. We are ready to invest in our relationship,’ Heiko Maas said earlier this week. ‘Regardless of what the election results are, there are a lot of strategic questions we can only solve together with America.’

That is why, in Maas’s eyes, a functional transatlantic partnership is needed. Separately, German vice chancellor Olaf Scholz also voiced hopes for Americans that the ‘future will be marked by reconciliation and not division'. Germany is ‘always at the side of those who work towards freedom, a rules and values-based world order and multilateralism,’ he said.

While Maas rightfully did not endorse either candidate, he indirectly implied a leaning towards one side: ‘Joe Biden stands in a tradition that sees multilateral cooperation as America’s strength.’ Maas and many others in Berlin would like to move past the Trump era and on to Biden. Germany would urge the new president to let the US return to international organisations such as the World Health Organisation and also revise trade regulations.

When it comes to trade, the Democratic party was once the party of protectionism. But that has changed under Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and other leaders while Trump shifted to a more protectionist stance. It is expected that Biden would be ready for a more open trade relationship with Germany as well as other leading European nations. Although German companies have been able to find new markets for their products, most notably in China, the US is still Germany's largest export market. German industry, and particularly the automotive or chemical sectors, are keen to see further liberalisation. 

At its root, however, the transatlantic partnership means more than just economics — there is a deep idealistic streak in the way that Germans still view the US. After world war two, Berlin was guided by Washington on fundamental foreign policy issues. Ever since Trump took office, the critical voices towards America’s intellectual leadership have become louder, even among moderate political decision-makers in Berlin. Referring to traditional post-world war two ties between the US and Europe, Maas said that dealing with future tasks would be ‘easier if we listen to each other again better and learn from each other.’ 

While Biden might not be able to reclaim that intellectual leadership, he could re-establish the relationship with one of the United States’s most important strategic partners.