Irish Times view on Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House

Meeting with President Biden will set the tone on key policy issues for the Chancellor’s successor and for the rest of Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s final visit to Washington includes an honorary degree, her eighteenth, and a dinner in her honour on Thursday

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s final visit to Washington includes an honorary degree, her eighteenth, and a dinner in her honour on Thursday

 

In Angela Merkel’s four terms as German chancellor, a succession of US presidents have, in reverse order, called her “stupid”, allowed the tapping of her mobile phone and, in front of rolling cameras, given her a surprise back rub.

Like most women who have to deal with powerful men, Merkel has taken it all with Olympian equanimity. It says much about her modest character that her greatest struggle with Washington was not over an insult but a compliment: the description, from a departing Obama aide, of Merkel as the de facto “leader of the free world”. Merkel snorted with derision at that portrayal, yet her officials concede that her sense of responsibility to the liberal, multilateral world order – and a perceived threat from the arrival of Donald Trump in the Oval Office – was a major reason she ran for a fourth term.

Her final visit to Washington includes an honorary degree, her eighteenth, and a dinner in her honour on Thursday from a very different president. Joe Biden’s invitation to Chancellor Merkel – the first European leader since he took offer – is a nod of thanks for her efforts to keep the transatlantic bridge stable during the Trump-era.

Both sides insist this is less a farewell than a working visit, and there are plenty of issues to discuss: climate change and cyberattacks; the global pandemic’s medical and economic challenges; and global security issues at the end of the Nato Afghanistan mission. Two issues stand out: how to manage Germany’s Nordstream 2 pipeline, and how to co-ordinate EU-US policy on China and Russia.

The White House still views the undersea pipeline, bypassing Ukraine and Poland to bring Russian gas to Germany and western Europe, as a “bad deal”. Given it is almost completed, however, the Biden administration hopes easing up on sanctions threats will firm up Berlin’s line on China and Russia which, for Washington, is too equivocal for comfort. On these key policy issues, their joint press conference on Thursday will set the tone for Merkel’s successor in the chancellery – and the rest of Europe.

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