21 Jan 2021, 14:14
Charlotte Nijhuis Julian Wettengel

German and EU politicians welcome U.S. return to global climate action

Government officials from the European Union and Germany have welcomed the inauguration of U.S. president Joe Biden as the start of a new phase of transatlantic cooperation and an opportunity to tackle global challenges such as climate change. However, Chancellor Angela Merkel and others warned that the two blocks would not agree on everything, and said her government would talk with the U.S. administration about the contentious Russian-German natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, currently under construction in the Baltic Sea.  

German politicians

Angela Merkel, chancellor

Chancellor Angela Merkel congratulated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on their inauguration – “a true celebration of American democracy,” she said. “I look forward to a new chapter of German-American friendship and cooperation.” In a press conference on 21 January, Merkel told journalists in Berlin that future cooperation will “simply be based again on a broader foundation of shared convictions”. There was a much wider room for cooperation, as shown by Biden’s first actions in office, such as re-joining the Paris Agreement, she said. “But we also know that when an American president takes office, we cannot expect only political agreement. Joe Biden represents the interests of the United States, I represent the interests of the Federal Republic. […] Don't assume that from tomorrow onwards there will only be agreement.

Asked about the pipeline Nord Stream 2, Merkel said: “My basic attitude has not yet changed to the point where I say the project should not exist.”

“Of course, we will talk about this with the new American administration, because it is viewed very critically across party lines in the USA – indeed, it is also viewed critically in parts of Europe. But then we also have to talk about which economic relations in the gas sector with Russia are acceptable and which are not. And it is not the case that there are no trade relations at all between the USA and Russia, for example in the oil sector. We have to put that on the table and talk about whether we want to have no more trade at all with Russia in the gas sector, what dependency is tolerable. Furthermore, I find these extraterritorial sanctions to be a means that is not in the right place from my point of view.”


Frank-Walter Steinmeier, federal president of Germany

The inauguration of the new government in Washington gives rise to the hope that the international community will return to closer and better cooperation, said German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a video message. “We look forward to having the U.S. as a vital partner at our side again on many fronts: as we fight the COVID19 pandemic together in a spirit of solidarity, tackle climate change at the global level, and address security issues,” he said.


Heiko Maas, foreign minister

Foreign minister Heiko Maas said that it is now about finding common ground. “The U.S. will return to the WHO and join the [Paris] climate agreement. We won't always agree with the new administration, but we will do our best to find solutions.”


Svenja Schulze, environment minister

The inauguration of new U.S. President Joe Biden sparks hopes that “climate action will finally be taken serious again” by the government of the world's largest economy, German environment minister Svenja Schulze has said in an interview with the Rheinische Post.

On Twitter, Schulze said former president Donald Trump’s “anti-science stance” and his unpredictability had caused great insecurity in international politics.


Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the environment ministry

Jochen Flasbarth, state secretary in the environment ministry, welcomed the U.S. re-joining the Paris Agreement. “Looking forward to a renewed and enhanced collaboration with you and our partners around the world,” he wrote on Twitter. “The [Paris Agreement] urges us to mutually fight climate change!” Flasbarth told Deutsche Welle that with the Biden administration taking office, there is something like “spring in the air for climate action”. “We can finally take a deep breath again because we now have an important state back on board in climate protection." Flasbarth stressed that the U.S. must make up for lost ground when it comes to climate financing for developing countries, which is a part of the Paris agreement. The state secretary hopes Americans recognize and respect the new multipolar world in climate protection. “Cooperation at eye level is now more important than ever,” Flasbarth said.


Norbert Röttgen, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag

Norbert Röttgen, head of the foreign affairs committee in the Bundestag, told radio broadcaster SWR2 that he looks with new hope to Washington and sees new opportunity to cooperate on global issues, such as climate. And: “In terms of style and tone, it is now possible to talk about everything again,” he said. However, Röttgen said the U.S. would not change its view on the controversial pipeline Nord Stream 2. “The opposition has always been a cross-party consensus.” He added that while Biden valued the transatlantic relationship, there are other focusses such as inner unity or the relations with China, which would take up much room.


EU politicians

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Biden’s inauguration is a “message of hope for a world that is waiting for the U.S. to be back in the circle of like-minded states”. She told the European Parliament in a speech that the re-entry to the Paris Agreement is a very strong starting point for renewed EU-US cooperation. The EU aims to deepen partnership on emissions trading and carbon pricing, and calls for a “new green tech alliance”, for example on hydrogen, batteries and offshore wind, she said.


Charles Michel, European Council president

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, also pointed to “an opportunity to rejuvenate our transatlantic relationship, which has greatly suffered in the last four years” in his speech in parliament. He named tackling climate change as one of five priorities for the cooperation (also: boosting multilateral cooperation, combatting Covid-19, rebuilding the economies, joining forces on security and peace).


David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament

“Working together, we can better tackle the challenges that we are faced with: the fight against climate change and the loss of biodiversity, responding to the digital transformation in a radically democratic way, and combatting unacceptable and increasing inequalities,” David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament said in a statement.


Michael Bloss, MEP

Michael Bloss, Green member of the European Parliament, welcomed Biden’s first environmental actions, saying that revoking the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline was a “huge win for our planet”. He also said the race to net-zero emissions is on: “Okay European Union, let’s start the race: Who will be the first in becoming climate neutral?”


German industry representatives hope for better trade relations with the U.S., writes the Rheinische Post (RP). "Joe Biden's presidency opens recently closed doors for Europe's economy, but the EU itself must step over the threshold and approach the new administration," Siegfried Russwurm, president of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), said to RP.

Stefan Wolf, president of employer association Gesamtmetall, expressed hope that the U.S. “will return to the principles of free trade and participate in joint efforts to protect the climate”. However: “It should be clear to everyone that Biden will also focus first and foremost on American interests,” Wolf added.

Carsten Knobel, CEO of consumer goods company Henkel, also expressed optimism. "There are signs that the US is returning to a constructive attitude and long-term approach, especially in trade and climate policy."

Research and NGOs


The NGO Germanwatch welcomes the first steps the Biden administration has taken to tackle the climate crisis. "The new US administration's swift return to the Paris Climate Agreement, officially launched today, is of paramount importance internationally," said Christoph Bals, political director of Germanwatch. Bals also sees the announcement of an additional climate summit under the leadership of the US and the abandonment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to Canada as important steps. The NGO stresses that the US needs major investments in renewables and clear rules for the phase-out of fossil fuels to achieve its net-zero goal by 2050. "By the end of the year, we will be able to assess the seriousness of the new climate policy,” by looking at the US investment programme, its 2030 climate targets and investments in international climate finance, Bals said.

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