Angela Merkel’s visit to the United States was the last mission to Washington by the chancellor who has led Germany continuously since 2005. During her sixteen years in power, the head of the German government flew to the US 23 times where she met four different American presidents: Bush jr., Obama, Trump and Biden.
Merkel was the first leader of an EU country to be hosted in the White House since Joe Biden officially took office on January 20. A clear sign of the importance paid by Washington to the relationship with Germany, despite the turmoil experienced during the Trump years. Indeed, perhaps precisely to rebuild a solid relationship now that the superpower is rallying its allies to fight the challenge of the century against China.
Merkel’s farewell visit to the USA must in fact put in the context of the new European order envisaged by Washington. The confirmation that the Americans will not sanction the German companies involved in the doubling of the Nord Stream pipeline – set to supply the Federal Republic of Russian hydrocarbons via the Baltic – must deal with the request to the Chancellor to act against those powers that violate human rights and which despise democracy. An explicit reference to the People’s Republic.
In recent years, Berlin has cemented the axis with Beijing in the name of trade, raising China to the rank of strategic partner also to reaffirm its European primacy. Except encountering a series of obstacles along the way, from the Diesel gate to the gaffe on Russian espionage to the pandemic, which have drastically reduced its ambitions.
Biden knows he cannot count on Germany to thwart Russia in Europe and so he asks Berlin to do its part in containing Beijing along with the French and Italians – just as reluctant as the Germans to openly lash out at Moscow.
Hence the concession on the Baltic gas pipeline, designed to obtain from the Federal Republic a reduction in commercial relations with China in the name of superior strategic interest. The White House is well aware that the current German government needs to reconcile American needs with its own national interest in cooperating economically with the Chinese. This is why she had already warned that she would not have expected anything new from Merkel, postponing everything until the arrival of her successor.
The containment of Russia is entrusted to the Eastern Europeans and the British, who on the day Merkel herself said she was ready together with the French President Macron to meet the Russian counterpart Putin launched a Royal Navy warship against Crimea. To provoke an angry Russian reaction and confirm the Kremlin’s account as a subject unsuitable for dialogue.
This is the context in which US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen made a sortie earlier in the week against the return of budget austerity in the eurozone. Speaking to colleagues from the Eurogroup, Yellen called for the maintenance of support measures and economic stimulus at least until next year, given the persistent and high uncertainty.
Statements of this kind clarify who the United States is with in the battle over the future of Europe beyond the honey words spent by Biden during his summit with Merkel. Italy and France are united against Germany to prevent a return to the pre-coronavirus EU once the crisis is over, characterized by the banner of Berlin’s fiscal rigor.
Washington is firmly opposed to any such hypothesis, convinced that it would plunge the most fragile economies of the Old Continent (Italy in the lead) into the abyss and that it would feed the mercantilist drive of Germany – a condition at the basis of the recurring German overtures to Russia and China.
For this reason, through the mouth of its Treasury Secretary, the superpower moves in advance to make a common front with the “cicadas” of the South against the “ants” of the North, also because it wants to understand if in the medium term Berlin will try to translate into geopolitical influence the step forward that last summer led it to approve the crucial European recovery fund.
The imminent departure of Merkel and the battle against the return of fiscal austerity suggest that in the near future the political leader of reference in the EU will be the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. If for the United States the match of the century concerns the challenge against China, for the Europeans it will be a question of being able to reform the current EU treaties without a German imprint and on which Berlin has built its power to the detriment of its neighbors.
Together with the French president Macron, in the next few years Draghi will carve out a leading role in this battle which, from now on, promises to be crucial to ensure a future for the European unitary project.