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What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?

Joe Biden will officially be inaugurated as the 46th US president on Wednesday. Here's a look at what the new administration could mean for Germany and transatlantic relationships.

What could Joe Biden as US president mean for Germany?
Biden and Merkel, during a visit from then-President Obama in 2017. Photo: DPA

The German government's coordinator for transatlantic relations, Peter Beyer, said on Wednesday that he expected a visit from new US. President Joe Biden soon.

“Especially after four years of Donald Trump, there is a longing in Germany for such a visit,” the politician from Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) told the Saarbrücker Zeitung.

“His visit would help improve the image of the United States in Germany.”

With the new president, there would also be an opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic relationship. “It has suffered greatly under Trump,” Beyer said.

Trump notoriously avoided making a bilateral visit to Germany, a very unusual move for a U.S. president. But on Wednesday, new hopes were set on the new administration for better transatlantic relations.

Here's a look at how some top issues could look under a Biden presidency.

International cooperation: Under Trump, the transatlantic friendship was not so clear. “He apparently has a particular aversion to the German Chancellor (Angela Merkel), but probably also to Germany,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington. “Even he himself probably does not know where this is rooted.”

In the Biden camp, she said, people are aware “that America's position in the world has become weaker – because of Trump, but not only because of Trump. They know that they need their allies in Europe and, above all, like-minded democratic allies more than ever before.”

READ ALSO: 'Worlds between us': What Trump's German family's town thinks of him today

Trump was betting on “America First”. But the experienced foreign policy expert Biden – who was Vice President under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama and who chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs as Senator – is committed to multilateral cooperation.

Among other things, Biden promises to revise the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the World Health Organisation (WHO) as soon as he officially is inaugurated on Wednesday. While Trump threatened to withdraw from NATO, Biden wants to strengthen the alliance.

Troops: In what was seen by many as an election maneuver, Trump announced in June 2020 that he would be withdrawing a third of all 36,000 US troops in Germany, partly because he said Germany did not make a big enough contribution to NATO. However, all troops were still in place. 

German troops in Dresden in 2016. Photo: DPA

“I see a definitive chance that this decision will be revised under Biden,” said representative of the Christian Democratic Party/Christian Social Union parliamentary faction, Johann Wadephul last October.

Brexit: Unlike Trump, who has backed Brexit and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Biden has often spoken out in favour of European integration. 

The 77-year-old has already made it clear that he does not think much of the British withdrawal from the EU. He has also warned British Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to jeopardise peace in Northern Ireland in the ongoing negotiations with the EU on a trade agreement. 

Trade: With a Biden administration, US interests will no doubt be pursued differently, but there would be no fundamental repositioning of Washington on the world stage, said Bernd Lange of the Social Democrats (SPD), the head of the EU Parliament's Trade Committee. 

READ ALSO: What Germany is saying about the US elections

Protectionist initiatives are also to be expected under Biden, he said, even if they are then presented in a more conciliatory manner than they have been under the Trump administration. 

Back to “normal”? Berlin has no illusions that everything will immediately be rosy in German-American relations under the new Biden administration. Beyer stressed that Barack Obama's presidency was not an easy one for Germany either.

“I warn against rose-coloured glasses of transatlantic nostalgia,” said the CDU politician. In Obama's day, for instance, there were diplomatic upheavals because Chancellor Merkel's mobile phone was tapped by the US secret service NSA.

Beyer, however, pleaded – like many others in the government camp in Berlin – to see the crisis in German-American relations as an opportunity.

“Maybe that is not such a bad thing, because it forces us Germans and Europeans to approach the shaping of our own economic and security policy future with a little more brain power – not only with regard to the US, but also with regard to China,” he said.

“We must create a strengthened, a united Europe – and then revitalise relations with the US”.

Member comments

  1. If Trump didn’t like strong women, he would not have appointment Amy Barrett to the High Court.
    Do some research & don’t just listen to Main Stream Media. Don’t allow yourself to be decieved by the lying Fake-stream media.

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ANALYSIS

Covid health pass: What can Germany learn from France?

Germany has its own version of a Covid health pass - the 3G rules. But does it actually do the job? The Local editor Rachel Loxton found Germany could learn lessons from its neighbour after a recent trip to Paris.

Covid health pass: What can Germany learn from France?
A sign outside a Munich restaurant informs guests that entry is only permitted for vaccinated, recovered or people with negative tests. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

While surveying the terrace for a table in a Paris bar on a sunny Friday afternoon, an employee stopped us. 

“Pass sanitaire?” he said a few times before I understood what was going on. “Oh, the Covid health pass,” I said as I fished out my phone to present the EU digital certificate I received in Germany. After it was scanned, we were free to find a table in the sun. 

Despite Germany having its own version of the ‘pass sanitaire’ – the 3G rules that mean entry to indoor spaces is only allowed if you can show proof of vaccination (geimpft), recovery from Covid (genesen) or a negative test (getestet) – I get the impression that the Covid health passport culture is different to that of France. 

In Berlin, for instance, I have dined indoors a few times recently, visited an exhibition and a bar – and not once been asked for proof of vaccination, recovery or test.

“Here in Paris most places ask for the pass, and it’s surprising how quickly it has become normal,” The Local France editor Emma Pearson tells me.

“It takes a second just to have your phone scanned by a waiter or security guard and personally it makes me feel a lot more relaxed about socialising.”

Emma says readers of The Local suggest that the pass is asked for less often in smaller places like village bars, but there doesn’t seem to have been “any type of widespread refusal of businesses to enforce it”.

“So far I have not seen anyone protesting when being asked to show the pass, and I’ve only witnessed a couple of tourists who were confused about the system, everyone else seem to have made it a habit pretty quickly,” she adds. 

OPINION: Majority of French have accepted the health passport with little more than a shrug

During my weekend in Paris I also had my vaccine certificate scanned when going to a museum and eating out.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has his health pass checked as he arrives to take part in a three-day-gathering of French ruling liberal party La Republique on September 6th, 2021. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP

That’s not to say that proof is never asked for in Germany. In gyms, for instance, I’ve heard they always ask for one of the Gs before you’re allowed inside to sweat with strangers (thankfully). Events and places where ticketing is needed at the door like cinemas, are on the whole more strictly enforcing the rules.

My EU vaccination certificate has also been checked before travelling by plane from Berlin. 

Yet it’s clearly very patchy. According to a survey released earlier this week by the opinion research institute Civey for Business Insider, 40 percent of respondents said the 3G or 2G (only for vaccinated or recovered people) rules in Germany were not enforced when they visited a restaurant, bar, cinema or other indoor event. 

Just under 30 percent said proof was checked but they did not have to show photo ID as well, which is meant to be the requirement. Only nine percent had their documents fully checked.

READ ALSO: 

So why hasn’t Germany embraced the culture of showing the digital pass in the same way as France – or even other EU countries like Italy?

Trust system

I suppose restaurants, bars, cultural and leisure facilities are trusting customers to have been vaccinated or taken a test. Perhaps they don’t want to dampen the mood by asking people to provide some kind of documentation during social gatherings.

After rafts of businesses being shut down by the government for several months last year and in the first half of 2021, restaurants, cafes and bars are simply happy to see guests again and actually be allowed to make money. Why risk turning people away or making them feel awkward?

We all know that Germany is a freedom-loving country, too, and perhaps asking everyone to get proof out is viewed as a controlling step too far. Small businesses are also understaffed and maybe they don’t want to take on additional bureaucratic burdens.

But given the high percentage of people in Germany who have not been vaccinated, I would feel better knowing that everyone has shown proof during social occasions. Particularly when visiting places like Berlin’s infamous Raucherkneipen (smoking bars) which are not known for their high-quality ventilation. 

The latest data shows 66.3 percent of the German population has received at least one jab and 61.9 percent are fully vaccinated. That’s a long way off health experts’ plea for 80-90 percent vaccination coverage. 

READ ALSO: Unvaccinated workers in Germany could lose pay in quarantine

The restrictions on entry only apply in Germany to indoor areas like dining in restaurants or bars. I also prefer the French way of requiring the proof to sit outside too. Because why not? We’ve gone to all this trouble of vaccinating millions of people, let’s show the proof – or at least make sure people are tested.

“My personal view is that I feel a lot more safe and secure going out for dinner, drinks, etc, knowing that everyone around me is either vaccinated or has tested negative,” says Emma from the Local France. “This will be important over the next couple of months as the temperature falls and socialising moves off the café terraces and indoors.”

Different system 

In France, a QR code has become the standard way of showing proof of vaccination. Although not perfect, it seems that the majority of businesses and people have accepted it. The system can also be used with the EU digital vaccine certificate, like the one we can get in Germany.

“So far there seems to have been fewer problems than anticipated and most of the technical problems have concerned people who were vaccinated outside France,” says Emma.

“EU vaccine certificates can be used on the French app for the health passport but it’s been more tricky for people who got their vaccines in non-EU countries, although the NHS app used in parts of the UK is now compatible with the French system.

“For people who got their vaccine in France the rollout has been remarkably smooth and I think it helped that they made it part of the TousAntiCovid app, which many people were already using. There is also an option to show proof on paper for people who either don’t own a smartphone or don’t want to use the app.”

Germany does not require that everyone has an official QR code, although we are encouraged to get it. People in the Bundesrepublik – a privacy-loving country famous for  shying away from digital upgrades – can use their yellow vaccination booklet or other proof of vaccination, recovery or test.

I think the different ways of showing proof has added to the feeling that it’s not quite a uniform system that everyone is part of. 

Would it make a difference?

Emma says there were two points to the health passport being introduced in France. “To control infection rates and to persuade people to get vaccinated by making daily life inconvenient for those who are not vaccinated,” she says. 

“The vaccination rates saw a huge spike straight after the passport was announced and more than 13 million people have now been jabbed since the date of the announcement. France is now among the European countries with the highest vaccination rates, which is not bad when you consider that back in January 60 percent of French people were telling pollsters that they might not get the vaccine.”

Although the two countries have roughly the same percentage of their population vaccinated at the moment, I wonder what the effect of a similar system to France could be on Germany. 

Of course, the countries differ on many points – France has also introduced mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers – so there are lots of factors to consider.

When it comes to infection rates it’s harder to tell.

France is seeing around 11,000 cases a day, although that’s been dropping steadily for over a month. 

“However that also coincided with the summer holidays – whether that can be sustained now that schools are back, people are back from holidays and in offices etc., remains to be seen,” says Emma. 

As Germany’s vaccine campaign has ground to an almost halt and Covid cases have generally been rising since July – on Friday 12,969 cases were logged within 24 hours – perhaps enforcing a stronger health pass message would be a helpful way of getting everyone on the same page. 

That’s not to say France hasn’t seen problems.

“There have been demonstrations every Saturday for six weeks now,” Emma says. “However, at their peak around 250,000 people demonstrated while 13 million went to get vaccinated. My impression among people I talk to is that it is accepted and in fact a lot of people actively like it.”

A demo outside the Eiffel Tower in Paris against the health passport on September 4th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Thibault Camus

What’s with the German name?

Lastly, it’s hard to write an article about 3G rules in Germany without mentioning the name. As some people have pointed out on Twitter, it’s a bit baffling that Germany has chosen to use a name associated with mobile phone Internet coverage. Not least because there are some conspiracy theorists who believe that getting vaccinated is linked to Bill Gates implanting us all with 5G microchips (for the record – no, that is not happening, it’s fake news.) 

3G makes perfect sense in German since it refers to the German words for vaccinated (geimpft), recovered (genesen) and tested (getestet).

But I can’t help but think another name such as CovPass, which is the German app that many people use to upload their vaccination certificate, might have been a better choice in this case. Especially since Germany is desperately trying to convince vaccine sceptics to get their jabs. 

It’s fair to say every country has its own battles when it comes to Covid vaccinations and controlling the pandemic, and Germany has had its ups and downs. 

I do think that looking to France on the relative success of their pass sanitaire would be a helpful exercise. I and many others are more than happy to show our vaccine certificate before settling down for a beer. 

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