U.S. President Joe Biden will welcome German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the White House on July 15 in what will likely be her last visit as chancellor as she prepares to step down after leading Germany for 16 years.
The visit comes just two months ahead of parliamentary elections, which will bring the first change in leadership in Germany since 2005.
It is also expected to emphasize the continuity and stability of the German-U.S. relationship and acknowledge the change of tone under Biden, who has pledged to seek unity with traditional U.S. allies in contrast to the diplomatic discord of former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
Biden met Merkel on the sidelines of the Group of Seven (G7) summit in England last month, praising her afterward as the European leader he admires most. He also wrote on Twitter that the ties between the U.S. and Germany “are stronger than ever,” adding that he was excited to welcome her to the White House “to continue our work.”
During their July 15 meeting, the two veteran politicians are expected to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, China, and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. The latter has created a rare strain between the two allies and hampered efforts to patch up relations since Trump’s departure.
The nearly completed $11 billion pipeline being laid under the Baltic Sea is a project that the United States has long opposed. Washington argues that it threatens European energy security and will deprive Ukraine of transit fees it collects off land pipelines that cross its territory.
Biden signaled in May that he is ready to get past the issue when he waived looming sanctions against German entities involved in the project, saying it is almost finished and sanctions would harm relations with European allies.
The pragmatic Merkel has said that the project is merely a means of doing business with Russia and a matter of national sovereignty. She also has pointed out that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas even after completion of the pipeline.
China also will be a topic of discussion.
Germany has strong trade ties with China but has also been critical of Beijing’s human rights record. Merkel has insisted on the need to cooperate with China on global issues such as combating climate change and tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
But she hopes to avoid a situation in which Germany or the European Union might be forced to choose sides between China and the United States.
Washington is also wondering what course Germany might take after the election on September 26, and Merkel is expected to reassure U.S. leaders that there won’t be a huge shift.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union is leading in the polls, but the environmentalist Greens and the center-left Social Democrats are also vying to lead a future government. All three parties are committed to a strong transatlantic relationship.
Merkel will also meet with Vice President Kamala Harris and other senior U.S. officials during her visit, which may not be her last.
The 66-year-old said that growing up in East Germany she dreamed of being able to travel to America in retirement, when the communist bloc tended to relax some of the restrictions on its citizens.