"The Alliance is Back"

Biden and Merkel promote "transatlantic partnership." However, disagreements on Russia, China and punitive tariffs persist.

BERLIN/MUNICH/WASHINGTON | | usa

BERLIN/MUNICH/WASHINGTON (Own report) - Persisting transatlantic disagreements cast a shadow over the purported unity between the USA and Western Europe celebrated at the Munich Security Conference (MSC). At the conference, which, due to the ongoing pandemic had to be held in a reduced and virtual format - "Special Edition" - last Friday, US President Biden remarked, "the transatlantic alliance is back." Angela Merkel declared Germany stands "ready for a new chapter in transatlantic relations." As both sides prepare to intensify pressure on Russia and China, Merkel asserted on Friday that Germany still wants to "offer cooperation" to Russia, for example in reference to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, rejected by the USA, also under the new president. Similar disagreements are becoming apparent in their approach to China: Business with China is considered indispensable for numerous German companies. Despite the EU's insistence, Washington has not even rescinded Trump's punitive tariffs and is intensifying the "Buy American Act" very much to the Union's resentment.

"Beyond Westlessness"

The organizers of the Munich Security Conference, led by longtime senior diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, had conceived this year's event thematically as a counterpoint to last year's conference, which was held under the motto "Westlessness," an artificial term intended to draw attention to the decline of western influence on international affairs. The accompanying Munich Security Report 2020 quoted French President Macron's pursuant comment: "We were used to an international order that had been based on Western hegemony since the 18th century. Things change."[1] At the time, Ischinger had called for decisive measures to increase influence to turn the tide or, at least, to halt the West's decline. Friday's reduced virtual conference was held under the motto "Beyond Westlessness" and was essentially intended to celebrate the new transatlantic unity after the Trump era's discord. For the first time, aside from UN General Secretary António Guterres and WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, only senior politicians from the Old West were invited, alongside US President Joe Biden, also Chancellor Angela Merkel and NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

"A Signal to the World"

Ostentatious pledges to renew the transatlantic pact had, in fact, taken up a large portion of the virtual conference. In his address, the US President announced: "America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back. And we are not looking backward; we are looking forward, together."[2] Chancellor Merkel declared Germany stands "ready for a new chapter in transatlantic relations."[3] EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen professed: "It is up to us, the United States and Europe, to strengthen our cooperation again. ... Shoulder to shoulder. Because if we lead the way, this is not only about joining forces. This is a signal to the world."[4] Charles Michel, President of the European Council insisted that the EU and the USA "need to join forces" to create "greater prosperity and well-being for our citizens." "Let's make our partnership a powerhouse for a better world." The EU, for its part, "wants to be a strong and reliable partner."[5] Subsequently, the organizers of the conference reported that the participants discussed "how to rebuild and renew the transatlantic alliance."[6] Last Friday's MSC Special Edition will be followed by other events later this year and, if possible, by a large conference in the usual face-to-face format.

Also "Offer Cooperation" to: Russia

It has long since been clear, that in spite of all the Alliance's lyricism, the previous transatlantic disagreements will, to a large extent, persist, for example, regarding the policy toward Russia. At Friday's virtual conference, Chancellor Merkel stressed that no significant progress had been achieved either in the dispute over Crimea's admission into the Russian Federation or in the "Minsk Process." "That is why it is very important that we develop a common transatlantic agenda for Russia."[7] It is true that, in light of the previous failure of their attempt to become a regulatory power for East Ukraine with the "Minsk Process," Berlin and Brussels have tightened their policy toward Russia in the fall by imposing new sanctions - similar to Washington's.[8] Today, Monday, the EU foreign ministers are negotiating the imposition of new coercive measures. However, Friday Merkel, had also stressed that the EU-USA common approach to Russia should also "offer cooperation," for example in reference to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which the German government seeks to maintain - not least of all, to be able to demonstrate its autonomy vis à vis the USA. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) In Washington, on the other hand, the Congress is applying pressure, to expand US sanctions against the construction of the pipeline.[10]

China: "Perhaps even more complicated"

Persisting disagreements are also becoming apparent in their approach to China. At the Munich virtual conference, Biden called on the transatlantic powers to "prepare together for a long-term strategic competition with China." "Competition with China is going to be stiff," but we "can own the race for the future."[11] Merkel, on the other hand, predicted that developing "a common agenda toward China" will "perhaps prove even more complicated" than agreeing on a common policy toward Russia.[12] That is because, in spite of an intensified confrontation in the power struggle, Berlin still seeks a continuation of its economic cooperation with Beijing. The new investment accord agreed upon in principle by the EU and the People's Republic of China in late 2020, also serves this objective.[13] In contrast, the Biden administration - which has recently established a Pentagon Task Force for the elaboration of military strategies toward China - continues to focus on aggressive economic measures against the People's Republic. This "runs diametrically counter to the Europeans' aspirations of maintaining the economic and commercial relations with China," notes, for example, the Europe Director of Washington's Carnegie Endowment, Erik Brattberg.[14]

Punitive Tariffs and "Buy American"

Transatlantic conflicts persist also in trade relations. The EU has been applying pressure on the Biden Administration to lift the punitive tariffs, imposed by the Trump administration on imports from the Union - until now without success. They remain in force. What's more, as one of his first acts of office, US President Biden issued an executive order, making the basic principle that US government agencies should only buy domestically-produced goods and US services even stricter than it had been. The previous permissible share of foreign-produced components in the commodities in question has now been reduced. Waivers will also to be less frequent. Biden's intensification of the "Buy American Act" has been met with intense resentment in Berlin and Brussels - not least of all because the quantity of orders of the targeted products has been estimated at a hefty US $600 billion. Last Thursday, European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis confirmed that Brussels will make an "in-depth assessment," if Biden's "Buy American" practices comply with WTO rules.[15] And on Friday, Peter Beyer, Berlin's Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation, demanded that "the time for punitive tariffs must come to an end." "I expect that the speed will be really set here soon."[16] The easing of tensions, however, is not yet in sight.

 

[1] Westlessness. Munich Security Report 2020. securityconference.org. See also The Incipient Decline of the West.

[2] Remarks by President Biden at the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference. whitehouse.gov 19.02.2021.

[3] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel anlässlich des virtuellen Forums der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz am 19. Februar 2021 (Videokonferenz). bundesregierung.de 19.02.2021.

[4] Speech by President von der Leyen at the Special Edition 2021 of the Munich Security Conference. ec.europa.eu 19.02.2021.

[5] Remarks by President Charles Michel at the Munich Security Conference video conference. consilium.europa.eu 19.02.2021.

[6] "Beyond Westlessness": Bericht der MSC Special Edition 2021. securityconference.org.

[7] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel anlässlich des virtuellen Forums der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz am 19. Februar 2021 (Videokonferenz). bundesregierung.de 19.02.2021.

[8] See also The New Strategy toward Russia.

[9] See also Transatlantic Sanctions (III).

[10] Nord Stream 2: US-Regierung verhängt Sanktionen gegen russisches Schiff. rnd.de 20.02.2021.

[11] Remarks by President Biden at the 2021 Virtual Munich Security Conference. whitehouse.gov 19.02.2021.

[12] Rede von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel anlässlich des virtuellen Forums der Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz am 19. Februar 2021 (Videokonferenz). bundesregierung.de 19.02.2021.

[13] See also "Ein Sturm zieht auf".

[14] Moritz Koch, Annett Meiritz, Torsten Riecke: "In Washington herrscht Frustration" - US-Präsident Biden enttäuscht von Europas Haltung zu China. handelsblatt.com 17.02.2021.

[15] Jakob Hanke Vela: EU trade chief warns Biden over 'Buy American' push. politico.eu 18.02.2021.

[16] Positive Reaktionen auf Biden-Rede bei Sicherheitskonferenz. ksta.de 20.02.2021.