Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects

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Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects
Olaf Scholz, likely to be the next Chancellor of Germany. Florian Gaertner/Photothek/Getty Images
  • Germany's election results mean a political realignment is looming.
  • Josh Groeneveld, a writer for Insider's German sister site, explains how it could affect the US.
  • Germany's elite are wary of the US after four years of Trump, and the chaotic Afghanistan pullout.

Angela Merkel time in charge of Germany is coming to an end. After 16 years of governing as a Chancellor, she'll hold on for a few more weeks or months, until a new German government is formed.

For the first time ever, Germany might be ruled by a three-party coalition instead of two.

The most likely outcome is a coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD) with the Greens and the free-market FDP party. It would make Merkel's Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz (think a moderate version of Bernie Sanders) the new Chancellor.

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(Less likely is a coalition of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), with the Greens and FDP. It would be led by Merkel's successor Armin Laschet, a younger Joe Biden-ish sort under whom the party went backwards in the polls.)

The exact shape is unclear - it may take months for an administration to form - but whatever the outcome, Germany's relationship with the US has some rough patches ahead.

Not everything's great after Trump

At the moment, many in Germany are disappointed in the Biden administration.

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Almost all democratic political parties in Germany hold the US to be the country's most important ally; the left-wing party Die Linke being the exception.

Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects
Joe Biden with Angela Merkel. Andreas Gebert/picture alliance via Getty Images

Yet the general feeling in Berlin after four blackout years of Donald Trump, is that the current diplomatic dialogue has not regained the level of trust of the Obama years.

The German administration is worried that American isolationism will continue under Biden - a worry that will persist regardless which parties end up taking control.

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The chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan deepened this sentiment within Germany's political, diplomatic and military elite.

When US forces took over operations at Kabul airport during the evacuation in August, they did not consult with allies.

Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects
A scene from the evacuation at Kabul International Airport during the US withdrawal. Allies felt left out as the chaotic process unfolded. Shekib Rahmani/AP

Other NATO partners had to share access to one evacuation flight an hour. The Americans made decisions unilaterally.

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In Germany, this was met by an anger that bordered on fury. A high-ranking diplomat in the German Foreign Office called US behavior a "catastrophe".

In its wake, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for a "paradigm shift" at NATO in a closed meeting with the Foreign Committee of the German parliament, according to people who attended.

Even within the Defense Committee of the conservative CDU, the most pro-US German party, people were appalled by the American solo run in Afghanistan.

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The new German government may well internalize this anger. While both Laschet and Scholz would be Chancellors strongly devoted to a US alliance, their parties - and their potential coalition partners, the Greens and the Liberals - might prove difficult.

High-ranking officials of Scholz's SPD are quite critical of what they see as excessive US intervention in international affairs.

Some, like the SPD leader in parliament Rolf Mützenich, have openly questioned the deployment of US nuclear weapons within Germany, for example.

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Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects
The US embassy in Berlin in 2013. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A SPD-led coalition might cut military spending to finance domestic priorities or climate-change measures, reigniting long-held US complaints that Germany is freeloading by relying on the US to defend Europe.

On the CDU side, military spending is not a problem, but the emphasis has been on Europe freeing itself from reliance on US defense via a European army - a long-held dream of many in Germany and France.

Stasis in the EU

But the army idea - and any other drastic realignment of Germany's posture to the US - would only be possible with agreement across the 27-nation European Union.

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As it stands, the member states are nowhere near consensus on a security union, which means the US will keep looming large.

You can imagine the EU like the Democratic Caucus in the US Senate: Yes, there are issues all 28 member states can agree on after much negotiation - but the EU has its Joe Manchins and Kyrsten Sinemas, too

For Germany, this means a reliance on the United States and NATO for the near future.

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Germany after Merkel may prove a grumpier and more difficult ally than the Biden administration expects
A scene in the European Parliament. Christopher Furlong / Getty

It also means Germany Republic and the EU need the US and allies like Japan, Canada, Australia and the UK Kingdom to counter geopolitical efforts by Russia and China.

While these are common goals to the USA and Germany, the ways of achieving these goals might vary.

A German government under Laschet or Scholz would probably not join hawkish efforts against Moscow or Beijing - even though their coalition partners might call for a harsher tone.

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It would also remain both competitor and partner of the US on trade. Thus, as under Merkel, Germany will remain the smaller, weaker partner in a tense transatlantic alliance without any alternative. It will likely be unhappier about that fact than ever.

Josh Groeneveld covers politics for Business Insider Deutschland.

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