US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet in the White House on Thursday as part of efforts to renew trans-Atlantic ties after the tensions unleashed by his predecessor’s “America First” administration.
But differences remain between the United States and Europe’s biggest economy, notably in the areas of defence spending, China, Covid-19 vaccination patents and the building of a controversial pipeline pumping natural gas from Russia to Europe.
The chancellor is set to begin the day in Washington with a breakfast meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, before talking with US business leaders and receiving an honorary doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University.
Merkel’s US visit is likely to be one of her last foreign trips as chancellor before she leaves the world stage after September’s national election, when she will stand down after 16 years in power.
The chancellor has made more than 20 visits to Washington in that time, with Biden now the fourth president to occupy the White House since she came to power in 2005.
The Biden-Merkel talks are expected to focus on steps to end the global coronavirus crisis, the post-pandemic economic recovery, climate change as well international security issues such as Iran and the seven-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“The election of Joe Biden as US president does not mean that the world no longer has any problems,” Merkel declared at last month’s London summit of Group of Seven leading industrial nations.”
“But we can work with renewed vigour to solve these problems,” she said.
One of those issues is likely to be the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline aimed at supplying Russian natural gas to Europe via Germany.
The 11-billion-dollar pipeline project has been a source of US-German tensions, with Washington arguing it poses a security risk by increasing Europe’s dependence on Russia.
Differences have also emerged between Berlin and Washington on how to deal with a resurgent China.
While Biden has called for a tough stance against Beijing, Merkel has indicated she prefers to avoid confrontation.
In line with past presidents, the Biden White House is also calling for NATO’s 30 member states to provide “effective burden sharing” of the US-led military alliance.
The alliance has agreed that each member state should spend two per cent of its gross domestic product on defense by 2024. However, Merkel, has said that Berlin is unlikely to reach the two-percent target until “towards 2030.”
Still, Merkel has built up a formidable reputation in Washington, with former US President George W Bush this week commending her leadership skills.
“Merkel has brought class and dignity to a very important position and made very difficult decisions,” Bush told German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle.
Underlining Merkel’s links with the US, Bush’s successor, former US president Barack Obama awarded Merkel in 2011 the highest civilian honour in the US, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, praising her as a “trusted friend.”
But after developing a very close working relationship with both Obama and Bush, Merkel’s ties with President Donald Trump were badly strained after he attacked her liberal refugee stance as well as Germany’s trade and industrial policies.
Now, as Merkel enters her final days in office she might have more time to plan something she spoken about in the past – to travel with her husband across America.