You’ve been talking about design for a while, about reviving the music scene, about waking up after months of pandemic. A small group of leading figures from Detroit’s cultural scene gathered to tell the guest from Germany about the needs, but also the dreams in a city recovering not only from a pandemic, but also from the decline of an industry. International exchange is so important, says Ellie Schneider, head of the city’s design initiative. “We have more in common with cities on the other side of the world than a ten-minute drive away,” she says. It’s pretty much the keyword Heiko Maas (SPD) has been waiting for. The German Foreign Minister begins with an exuberant thank you, which culminates in something like declaring that the cultural workers of Detroit are doing their best for world peace.
In the hip contemporary art museum, that may sound exaggerated. But that is why Maas came to work out the big picture on a small scale. “Thank you for what you do. You are not only doing it for your community, but for your society,” Maas praised. And then he gets to the point, “I hope this helps your president. He wants to heal the divisions in society. Your work does just that.” And that is good for the whole world, because it needs a US government that is not only concerned with domestic affairs, but also has time for the international. “We need your country”, Maas concludes his short speech.
This is about the political rediscovery of America
A little pathos maybe. But what this is about is nothing less than America’s political rediscovery – after years of rejection by Donald Trump and months of exclusion due to the pandemic. Before US President Joe Biden receives Chancellor Angela Merkel in the White House on Thursday, Maas explores the terrain, as did a number of ministers before him. Peter Altmaier came first to Washington at the end of June. The economy minister and CDU politician spoke of a “transatlantic new start”, of the “momentum” that must be exploited. It was about tariffs, but also about a way out of the malaise around the German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, which was rejected by Biden and his predecessor Trump. Then Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) gave herself the credit. Together we will take on “both the well-known and completely new” challenges, she promised, and the hosts rejoiced with the news of the purchase of five maritime patrol aircraft of the type Boeing P-8A Poseidon. Then the Minister of Finance and SPD candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz – thus the desired impression – made the new global minimum tax clear with his American colleague Janet Yellen.
Six months after Biden took office and two months before the federal election, it is no longer enough to praise the newfound friendship and shared values. The question of added value, of the practical benefit of the partnership, arises. It will also arise when Biden and Merkel appear together before the press in the White House. In both America and Europe, liberal democracy and multilateralism are under pressure to succeed – for Biden the future of his presidency and for Merkel, above all, her legacy. The two would talk about fighting the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change and prosperity and international security “on the basis of our shared democratic values,” Bidens spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced.
“The idea of globalization wins and only reaches people if those involved see the benefits,” says Maas. It is unusual for the Secretary of State to be the Chancellor’s direct vanguard, which is why Maas does not go to Washington. The main reason for the trip is a UN Security Council meeting on Libya in New York. He takes an entire day in advance to look at the benefits being invoked in Michigan, a state Biden narrowly recaptured from Trump and deeply divided between county and city and often black and white. In the small town of Kalamazoo, he visits a factory of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which produces 80 million doses of the vaccine against Covid-19 developed by the Mainz company Biontech every month. Maas describes the collaboration as “the best example of how we should work in a global pandemic, namely together and internationally”. “That’s what pharmaceutical companies are doing and we should be doing that in politics too,” he says — it’s precisely the global vaccination campaign that is testing the regained German-American harmony.
In the patent dispute he tries the balancing act between Merkel and Biden
US President Biden calls for patents to be released to help poorer countries. Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks little or nothing about this, which she probably won’t get rid of in the White House. “This is a discussion that we are having and that we do not want to refuse,” says Maas, who does not want to sound as apodictic as Merkel, but also does not want to contradict her. Such a patent release won’t be “terminated overnight,” he thinks instead. Therefore, the first thing we need to do now is expand supply chains and create manufacturing sites “in the global south”. “You have to do both. You can do it in parallel,” the foreign minister tries to cool the conflict, which does not match his message.
Recently, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Berlin and both ministers spoke to young people at Clärchen’s Ballhaus, Maas was delighted that he “always had the same opinion” with his new colleague. That’s certainly not true, but it describes the desire to celebrate the community and its benefits after four horrific Trump years. In Dearborn near Detroit, Maas then visits Ford’s headquarters and spends an hour with corporate boss James Farley about “the future of the auto industry in general” and the future of the auto industry in Europe in particular. Maas also reports to Farley on federal government plans for battery production – combined with the desire that future car production should also take place “in close proximity” to battery production. So in Germany.