Remarks by President Biden and Chancellor Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany in Press Conference
5:16 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you all. Please have a seat. Today, it’s been my great honor — and I mean that — to welcome a dear friend back to the White House.
And before I say anything else, Chancellor Merkel, I want to express to you and to the people of Germany my sincere condolences and the condolences of the American people for the devastating loss of life and the destruction due to the flooding over the past 24 hours in Germany and neighboring countries. It’s a tragedy, and our heart goes out — our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones.
Chancellor Merkel has been here frequently over the past 16 years. Matter of fact, she knows the Oval Office as well as I do. But all kidding aside, through — though this administration — she’s been there for four years — for four Presidents.
But I want to take a moment to acknowledge the historic nature of her chancellorship. First woman chancellor in German history. The first chancellor from the former East Germany. And now, the second largest — longest-serving chancellor since Helmut Kohl. Here’s an exemplary life of groundbreaking service to Germany and, I might add — and I mean it from the bottom of my heart — to the world.
On behalf of the United States, thank you, Angela, for your career of strong, principled leadership. And thank you for speaking out for what is right and for never failing to defend human dignity.
And I want to thank you for your continued support for the longstanding goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. You’ve been a stalwart champion of the Transatlantic Alliance, the Atlantic Partnership.
Under your chancellorship, the friendship and cooperation between Germany and the United States has grown stronger and stronger.
And I’m looking forward to celebrating more at our dinner this evening, but today was very much a working visit. Chancellor Merkel and I covered a wide range of issues where Germany and United States are working to advance a shared agenda. We discussed, together with our fellow major democracies at the G7, Germany and the United States have responsibilities to lead with our values, as do the other members of NATO.
And today, I’ve — I’ve confided that in our new Washington Declaration, which we’ve codified — a document affirming our commitment to the democratic principles that are the heart — that are at the heart of both of our nations, and how we will apply them to meet the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow.
Both our nations — both our nations understand the imperative of proving that democracies can deliver the needs of our people in the second quarter of the 21st century. We will stand up for democratic principles and universal rights when we see China or any other country working to undermine free and open societies.
And we are united — united in our commitment to addressing democratic backsliding, corruption, phony populism in the European Union or among candidates for the EU membership or anywhere we find it in the world.
We agree on the importance of further integrating the Western Balkans into the European — into European institutions and in our continued support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as the continued importance of reforms in the support of their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
We stand together and will continue to stand together to defend our Eastern Flank allies at NATO against Russian aggression. And while I rere- — while I reiterated my concerns about Nord Stream 2, Chancellor Merkel and I are absolutely united in our conviction that Russia must not be allowed to use energy as a weapon to coerce or threaten its neighbors.
And today, we’re launching a climate and energy partnership to support energy security and the development of sustainable energy, sustainable energy technologies, and emerging — and emerging economies, including in Central Europe and Ukraine.
To unite our efforts to upend and — on our global climate ambitions that we have to up-the-ante, what happened is we talked about when Paris Accord was set, we thought we had established just how serious it was, but things have gotten much more dire since even that date. And to unite our efforts to update and to up-the-ante on global climate — on global climate ambitions.
I also thank Chancellor Merkel for the dedication and the sacrifice of German troops who have served side by side along with U.S. forces in Afghanistan for almost 20 years.
And we reaffirmed our shared commitment to continuing to counter terrorist threats where we find them, including in the Sahel in Africa.
And we — when we think about the future, the future we want for the world, there is no issue — there’s no issue set at all that I believe we find anything other than the certainty that a commitment that — between the United States and Germany doesn’t benefit whatever the problem or the concern is.
We need to fight COVID-19 pandemic everywhere, to strengthen global health security for tomorrow so we’re ready for the next pandemic.
We need to make sure that the rules of the road governing the use of emerging technologies advance freedom, not authoritarianism and repression.
And we need to promote a sustainable and inclusive economic recovery that enhances the prosperity and opportunity for all.
And so much more.
This just — this isn’t just the work of governments, the work is the work of our peoples, sharing their innovation and insights, joining together to amplify our collective impact.
So today, we’re launching a Futures Forum between our two countries, which will bring together top experts across business, academia, civil society, and more to collaborate as we shape our shared future.
Madam Chancellor, I know that the partnership between Germany and United States will continue to grow stronger on the foundation that you have helped to build. But on a personal note, I must tell you, I’ll miss seeing you at our summits. I truly will.
So, thank you again, Angela, for making the journey, for our productive meeting today, and for your friendship.
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As interpreted.) Mr. President, dear Joe, first of all, I would like to thank you most warmly for the condolences and the empathy you expressed as regards the victims to the floodings in Germany.
And I would like to ask for your understanding that I need to address this matter with a few words because, in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, the day is already drawing to a close — a day that is characterized by fear, by despair, by suffering. And hundreds of thousands of people, all of a sudden, were faced with catastrophe. Their houses were literally death traps. Small rivers turned into flooded, devastating rivers.
And I must say that my empathy and my heart goes out to all of those who, in this catastrophe, lost their loved ones or who are still worrying about the fate of people still missing.
And I include Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands who’ve also suffered from floodings.
The rescuers, first responders are doing their utmost to help people. I must say that I’m very much feeling with those who’ve suffered, and I know that millions of people in Germany feel the same.
The Minister-Presidents Ms. Dreyer and Mr. Laschet, Minister-Presidents of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, respectively, and also the ministers who were responsible here — I talked to them, and I would like to send out a message to the people that we will not leave them alone with their suffering and that we’re trying our utmost to help them in their distress.
Mr. President, dear Joe, thank you for the invitation. Thank you for making it possible to talk to you. It’s my first visit since 2019, and I’m so much — so happy about the personal exchange we have seen again today that we’re not only partners and allies, but we’re very close friends. And thank you for the very friendly exchange that we had this afternoon.
We all share the same values. We all share the same determination to tackle the challenges of our times, to master them. And I’m deeply convinced that simply committing to these values is certainly not sufficient. We are living at a crucial moment in time where we are facing new challenges, and these challenges need to be translated into practical policies.
So I’m very grateful that we have this opportunity to work on foundations. And we lay down those foundations in the Washington Declaration, and also how we see the road ahead, and also measures. And I think that this Futures Forum will deal with those issues. Our societies will discuss together what sort of solutions they think appropriate, and I think such structures are very important.
There is a very large degree of common ground, as has come out of our talks. We are convinced, both of us, that overcoming this pandemic is only possible if as many people as possible are vaccinated in our countries, and many wish to do that.
We have to also support the rest of the world with vaccines. We work together with COVAX. And I’m very grateful to the United States that, under your leadership, dear Joe, the U.S. has committed itself very clearly and unequivocally to multilateralism, be it on climate, be it on reform of the World Health Organization, and support also to WTO.
Germany and the United States have agreed to provide vaccine doses to poorer countries; we work within COVAX, as I said.
We talked about the challenge of climate change. And I am very happy that the United States are now back again with us in the Paris Climate Agreement and for Glasgow. That provides us with a totally different basis in order to work among the parties to the treaty better — in a much better and much more efficient way for climate.
And we see countries that are (inaudible) by floodings, by wildfires, and by storms in an increasing manner, and that shows that there is a dramatic increase in such unusual weather phenomena and we have to contend with this.
Germany and the United States have now forged an Energy and Climate Partnership. I think it’s a very important message that we’re sending here. We want to build on future-oriented technologies — green hydrogen, for example; renewables; electromobility. We’re in competition with others on this planet, and we would like to be successful together. And Germany is very much looking forward to cooperating in this respect.
And I support the President in what he proposed as a global infrastructure project, which we agreed on on the G7 summit. Next year, as you probably know, we will have the chairmanship of the — the presidency of the G7, and we will bring this project forward.
We talked about Russia and Ukraine and, in this context, also about Nord Stream 2. We’ve come to different assessments as to what this project entails. But let me say very clearly: Our idea is and remains that Ukraine remains a transit country for natural gas; that Ukraine, just as any other country in the world, has a right to territorial sovereignty, which is why we’ve become engaged and continue to be engaged in the Minsk Process.
We will be actively acting should Russia not respect this right of Ukraine that it has as a transit country. So Nord Stream 2 is an additional project and certainly not a project to replace any kind of transit through Ukraine. Anything else would obviously create a lot of tension. And we’re also talking about how we can actually make this very clear together.
We also talked about other priorities in our foreign policy. For example, our relationship with China. We are countries who stand up for free, democratic societies — stand up for those rights — civic rights for those who live in these societies. So, wherever human rights are not guaranteed, we will make our voices heard and make clear that we don’t agree with this. We are also for territorial integrity of all countries of the world.
We also talked about the many facets of cooperation and also of competition with China, be it in the economic area, be it on climate protection, be it in the military sector and on security.
And, obviously, there are a lot of challenges ahead. On the nuclear agreement with Iran, JCPOA — we think that everything ought to be done in order to bring this to a successful conclusion. But I think that is something that is also — the ball very much here is also in the Iranian camp.
Now, over many, many years, we’ve served together in Afghanistan. We’ve been able to contain, to a certain degree, terrorist dangers. But, unfortunately, we have not been able to build a nation as we would like it to look.
And, still, I would hold, it was a good partnership — has been a good partnership with the United States all throughout this experience. Also very good contacts between our soldiers. I know our soldiers greatly appreciated that.
We also talked about Sahel — the Sahel zone where terrorism is on the rampage. And obviously, for us in Europe, this is a great challenge. We’re very — and also for the countries on the ground — we’re very grateful to the United States for their mission in order to contain and push back against these terrorist advances.
We also have drawn up a German — we’ve also agreed on a German-American dialogue between our business communities, because we have considerable trade links and we wish to build on this. And obviously, the economy and economic ties are of prime importance.
So, it was a very, very good exchange. We’re close partners. I would like this to remain even after I have left office. And I think, with this visit, we probably paved the way to make it possible to also create formats where we can exchange, because the world will continue to be a place that is full of challenges.
So, thank you very much for making it possible for us to tackle those together. Thank you.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much. We’re each going to take two questions. And I’m going to begin by recognizing Steve Portnoy and congratulate you on your new role as president of the White House Correspondents Association.
Q Thank you, sir.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: My sympathies.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: No, but thank you.
Q I appreciate that, sir. On behalf of the press corps, thank you, and we’re looking forward to the day we can have even more reporters all the way to the back of the room. So, thank you very much.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Laughs.)
Q I have a couple of questions for you. Also a question for the Chancellor. But, Mr. President, with respect to Latin America and the developments there in the last week-plus —
PRESIDENT BIDEN: Yes.
Q — what are the circumstances under which you would send American troops to Haiti? That’s the first question.
The second question is: When it comes to Cuba, what is your current thinking on American sanctions toward Cuba and the embargo? And today, your Press Secretary said that communism is a “failed ideology.” I assume that’s your view. I was wondering if you could also give us your view on socialism.
And then, for the Chancellor, the question is: Madam, the President said that you know the Oval Office as well as he does. I’m wondering if you could reflect on your exchanges with American Presidents over the last 16 years and, particularly, contrast the current President with his most immediate predecessor.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: In two minutes or less. (Laughter.)
Obviously, I know why they elected you president. (Laughter.) Well, let me start off by answering the question relative to Haiti and Cuba. And communism is a failed system — a universally failed system. And I don’t see socialism as a very useful substitute, but that’s another story.
With regard to whether the circumstances in which we would send military troops to Haiti: We — we’re only sending American Marines to our embassy to make sure that they are secure and nothing is out of whack at all. But the idea of sending American forces into Haiti is not on the agenda at this moment, number one.
Number two, with regard to Cuba: Cuba is a — unfortunately, a failed state and repressing their citizens. There are a number of things that we would consider doing to help the people of Cuba, but it would require a different circumstance or a guarantee that they would not be taken advantage of by the government — for example, the ability to send remittances to — back to Cuba. I would not do that now because the fact is it’s highly likely that the regime would confiscate those remittances or big chunks of it.
With regard to the need COVID on — I mean — excuse me — they have a COVID problem on — in Cuba. I’d be prepared to give significant amounts of vaccine if, in fact, I was assured an international organization would administer those vaccines and do it in a way that average citizens would have access to those vaccines.
And one of the things that you did not ask but we’re considering is — they’ve cut off access to the Internet. We’re considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate that access.
And I think I’ve answered your questions. Thank you.
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As interpreted.) Allow me, if I may, to elaborate on three different points. Any German chancellor has a vested interest to talk — and that’s in — very much in the vested interest of Germany to work and talk together with any American President.
We’ve always had contacts, and we — you’ve been able to — it was, I think, very transparent, and today it was a very friendly exchange.
Oh, sorry. I have to call on Mr. Kynast and his German question.
Q (As interpreted.) Thank you very much, Madam Chancellor, Mr. President. Allow me, if I may, to ask a question as regards Nord Stream 2. Madam Chancellor, you just said that you would act actively should Russia be in breach of its commitments — so, for example, interrupt gas transit through Ukraine. What do you mean in concrete terms? Will Germany then switch off Nord Stream 2 from the German side? And what sort of legal grounds would you be, sort of, claiming?
Mr. President, you have fought so many years — the U.S. has fought so many years against Nord Stream 2. Now, there will be only a few days left until this pipeline comes into operation. Why — will you allow it to go ahead, to put it in operation, or will the people who operate the system actually have to contend with sanctions on the horizon?
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Well, Mr. Kynast, as the Chancellor, you know that we’ve worked a lot — not only Germany incidentally, but the whole of the European Commission — for talking to Russia and Ukraine, negotiating a treaty that ensures until 2023 the gas contract and, after that, gas deliveries must be possible as well. That is what I’ve heard at least. Let me be very careful here in my wording.
And then should that not go ahead, we have a number of instruments at our disposal, which are not necessarily on the German side, but on the European side. For example, sanctions and as regards Crimea and breach of the Minsk treaty has shown that we have these sanctions — these instruments at our disposal.
We have possibilities to react. We are in contact with our European friends on this. But at the — at the point in time of which I hope we will never have to take those decisions, you will then see what we do.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: My view on Nord Stream 2 has been known for some time. Good friends can disagree. And — but by the time I became President, it was 90 percent completed. And imposing sanctions did not seem to make any sense. It made more sense to work with the Chancellor on finding out how she’d proceed based on whether or not Russia tried to, essentially, blackmail Ukraine in some way.
And so, the Chancellor and I have asked our teams to look at practical measures we could take together, and whether or not Europe energy security, Ukraine security are actually strengthened or weakened based on Russian actions. And so this is a — we’ll see. We’ll see.
Ms. Leonard of Bloomberg.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I have two questions for you, and then some for Chancellor Merkel as well. Your administration, tomorrow, is issuing a business advisory for Hong Kong. I was wondering if you can explain why you think that is necessary.
And then, secondly, on your Build Back Better agenda, have you spoken to Senators Manchin and Sinema about the $3.5 trillion framework, and are you confident that they’ll be on board at that level? And if they demand that you lose some components, will you be able to keep progressives on board?
(As interpreted.) I wanted to ask you whether you have a feeling that, after the talk with President Biden, he better understands your viewpoint as regards to China or whether the situation is still tense, whether there is still decoupling. And secondly, whether you think that the United States has contributed enough to vaccinate the rest of the world, or do you think it’s only — is it appropriate for children in the United States being vaccinated — children below the age of 12, while adults in other countries have no chance to get vaccinated?
PRESIDENT BIDEN: That’s all? (Laughter.) I thought I said we’d take two questions, but I guess that translated to we’d take two questions or more from each person called on.
Let me talk about the business advisory. The situation in Hong Kong is deteriorating. And the Chinese government is not keeping its commitment that it made how it would deal with — with Hong Kong.
And so it is more of an advisory as to what may happen in — on Hong Kong. It’s as simple as that and as complicated as that.
With regard to “Am I confident?” — I’m supremely confident that everything is going to work out perfectly in terms — (laughs) — look, I understand why the press, among others, is skeptical that I can actually get this deal done on infrastructure and on human infrastructure. And I’ve watched and listened, and the press declared my initiative dead at least 10 times so far.
I don’t think it’s dead. I think it’s still alive. I still have confidence we’re going to be able to get what I proposed and what I’ve agreed to in the bipartisan agreement on infrastructure.
I’ve gotten — we’ve each committed — I trust the members of — the Republican senators who have made the commitments relative to how we should proceed and what would be included in the package for infrastructure. And they’re men and women of honor, and I expect they would keep their commitment.
With regard to the further issue of what’s going on and what will confuse the listening audience — but reconciliation — that is the mechanism by which you have to get every single Democrat to agree to proceed on matters like what I announced today.
Today — I don’t know whether you have any children; it’s none of my business whether you do, but if you do, you’re going to get — if you’re making less than $150,000 — you’re going to get a significant stipend that is a tax cut. If you have a child under the age of seven years old, you’re going to get — in your bank account today, you’re going to get a payment of one — 12 months divided — $3,600 — $3,700 for that child divided by 12 every month, just like a Social Security check.
It’s expected to reduce pov- — child poverty by over 40 percent. And it could be a significant, significant game-changer.
We have mechanisms to pay for both these mechanisms. And there may be some last-minute discussion as to who — what mechanism is used to pay for each of these items, both the infrastructure package and the human infrastructure package. But I believe we will get it done. Thank you.
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As interpreted.) We talked about China, and there is a lot of common understanding that China, in many areas, is our competitor; that trade with China needs to rest on the assumption that we have a level playing field so that we all play by the same rules, have the same standards. That, incidentally, was also the driving force behind the EU-China Agreement on trade that they abide by the core labor norms of ILO.
And we are convinced of our needing to be technological leaders for our two countries in many, many areas. Obviously, it’s legitimate for China wishing to do this as well, but, for example, we will cooperate in many technological state-of-the-art technologies — for example, CHIPS. I think the act that the President launched is fundamental in this respect and crucial.
And we want to trade together at a time of digitalization where security issues loom very large in our agenda — as we ought to have an exchange on this; we ought to talk about this; we ought to talk about norms, standards that govern the Internet; whether we can agree on common norms. I think, particularly as regards to the relationship of us with China, we ought to coordinate our efforts. We do that in the European Union, and we should do it with the United States.
And then there are interests, obviously — sometimes divergent interests, but sometimes common interests. But we also have, obviously, areas where American companies compete with European companies, and we have to accept that. But I think, basically, the rules as to how we deal with China ought to rest and do rest on our shared values.
And I think, on the pandemic, we are obviously of the opinion that the pandemic — we can only master the pandemic if each and every one is vaccinated. We are trying to boost production. We are trying also to get as many people in our country vaccinated as possible — which obviously opens us up to criticism of those countries who has yet have not had the chance, which is why we invested a lot of money in COVAX, which is why we encourage our companies to increase their production of vaccines.
And, in Africa, we are trying to help Africans to upskill people so that they, too, can have their own production sites. We’re going to do this, but, de facto, there is an imbalance; I agree.
And — but we’re overcoming. We’re putting our all into that and also together in overcoming that imbalance.
I’m sorry. I call on Ms. Schaeuble from Der Tagesspiegel newspaper. Thank you.
Q Very short one for each of you. Mr. President, my question — my first question touches an issue that worries a lot of people in the U.S. and in Germany. Can you explain to us why there still is a travel ban for people coming from Germany or other states of the European Union, while people from Turkey, where the number of new cases are seven times as high, can come?
You all have repeatedly said that you’re following scientific data. What is the main argument for not lifting that travel ban for the Schengen region?
And, Chancellor Merkel — (as interpreted) — you talked to the business companies here. You heard their concerns. You heard their headaches. Some have threatened that they’re going to shift business away from the United States. What was your main argument to work for a lifting of the travel ban? And have you had success with this?
PRESIDENT BIDEN: We brought in the head of our — our COVID team because the Chancellor brought that subject up. It’s in the process of (inaudible) how soon we can lift the ban — it’s in process now. And I’ll be able to answer that question to you within the next several days — what is likely to happen. I’m waiting to hear from our folks in our — our COVID team as to when that should be done. And the Chancellor did raise it. (Laughs.)
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: (As interpreted.) I did raise the issue, yes, and got the same answer that the President gave you just now. The COVID team is evaluating the matter. We had an exchange on — in both areas.
The Delta variant actually being on the increase, that is, again, a new challenge to both of us. And obviously, before such a decision, one has to reflect, and it has to be a sustainable decision. It is certainly not sensible to have to take it back after only a few days. So I’m — have every confidence in the American COVID team.
PRESIDENT BIDEN: Having been here many times, if we don’t leave right now, we’re going to miss dinner. Chancellor and I have a dinner with some — a number of folks, and very shortly.
So, thank you for your attention. And thank you for your — for your questions. Thank you.
CHANCELLOR MERKEL: Thank you.
5:49 P.M. EDT