The American elections are not yet over, of course not. But given the likelihood that US experts expect Joe Biden to win, Germany and Europe can consider what will and will not change in transatlantic relations. In fact, you shouldn’t wait to see what Biden offers you, but actively help shape the new dynamic.
The first reaction is easy to predict: relief. An end to irritation and anger about Donald Trump. The US approaches its allies, returning to the Paris climate agreement, perhaps later also to the nuclear deal with Iran and to TPP, the transpacific free trade agreement to contain China. They are stopping the withdrawal of troops from Germany, they are not threatening penalties on German cars, nor are they imposing sanctions on Nord Stream 2.
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And then comes a period of mutual disappointment, similar to what happened after Barack Obama’s 2009 election. Each side expects the other to move and continue the usual politics.
The Americans will say, we understand that you are not increasing the defense budget and taking more personal responsibility for Trump (then: George W. Bush). But now that Biden (then Obama) rules, you can meet us. We understand that your Trump decoupling against China will not fit in there. But we would like you to work with us to pressure Beijing to achieve a level playing field, fair trade and investment rules. That means that China is the biggest polluter to participate in climate protection, not just in 2060, but now.
However, the Germans tend to blame Trump (then Bush) for all the problems, largely ignoring their own contributions to the deterioration of relations and pretending that only a US policy change is needed.
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Obama had expected that the EU and Germany, as the most influential members, would share responsibility for the world order with the US. The EU has equal economic power, why not become more ambitious? Obama quickly turned his back, disappointed, because the EU is mainly concerned with itself and its decision-making mechanisms are so clumsy. Should that be the case with Biden?
Germany also owes its success as an export country to the US.
Germany in particular owes its success as an export country, which in turn forms the basis for its prosperity and social systems, to the international rule-based order. It is largely carried by the US. China only respects this order where it benefits. But not where rules and contracts are an obstacle, from climate protection to opening up the market in accordance with WTO requirements to Hong Kong’s autonomy.
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Germany must also bear in mind that it cannot count on the support of its EU partners in many conflict issues with the US. France, Poland and others consider Nord Stream harmful; Like the US, they are demanding greater contributions from Germany to common security policy and in dealings with China and Russia. After a victory for Biden, the European race begins to present itself to him as the most reliable partner in Europe – more reliable than Germany.
That is why the motto in Berlin should be: define priorities, what Biden should do differently in relation to Europe. And at the same time make offers that Germany wants to comply with. First of all in defense and alliance policy, towards China and Nord Stream 2.