U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to meet with new U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By Michael Nienaber
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed in a phone call on Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges could only be tackled through closer cooperation, a government spokesman in Berlin said on Monday.
Separately, Finance Minister Olaf Scholz welcomed the confirmation of Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary by the U.S. Senate, voicing hope she could bring progress in reaching an international agreement on corporate taxation.
“Congratulations to the United States for making this outstanding choice! Janet Yellen is a very impressive person,” Scholz said, adding that he was looking forward to working with Yellen, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.
Transatlantic relations cooled under former President Donald Trump, who attacked Germany repeatedly for its export strength and its relatively low NATO defence spending.
After bruising meetings of the G7 group of wealthy nations and NATO with Trump in 2017, Merkel said that Europe could no longer completely rely on its allies and that the continent must become more independent.
In their first phone call since Biden took office, Merkel congratulated him on his inauguration. “At the same time, she declared Germany’s willingness to take on responsibility in dealing with international tasks together with its European and transatlantic partners,” the government spokesman said.
Merkel and Biden agreed that more international efforts were needed to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. “In this context, the Chancellor welcomed the return of the United States to the World Health Organization,” the spokesman added.
The two leaders also spoke about foreign policy issues, particularly those relating to Afghanistan and Iran, and Merkel welcomed Biden’s decision to return the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement.
In a readout of the call, the White House said the two leaders agreed on the “importance of global cooperation,” including on fighting climate change, containing the pandemic and pursuing a stable global economic recovery.
Biden told Merkel he intends to revitalise the transatlantic alliance, the White House said.
The United States is Germany’s most important export market outside the European Union, but trade ties deteriorated under Trump, who increased import tariffs on some European goods.
Scholz told Reuters that Europe and the United States were natural partners, as both shared the same values. “I am convinced that together we are stronger. Together we can achieve more for our citizens,” he said.
For Berlin, key issues on the agenda in the coming months are the taxation of the digital economy and a global minimum effective tax for companies.
“I am counting on making decisive progress and reaching an agreement at OECD level this summer,” Scholz said. “The coronavirus pandemic is showing us once again how important it is for all companies to pay their fair share.”
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development outlined last year the first major rewriting in a generation of international rules for taxing cross-border businesses such as Alphabet’s Google, Apple and Facebook.
Nearly 140 countries involved in the talks agreed in October to keep negotiating until mid-2021 after discussions stalled as Washington became reluctant to sign up to an international deal ahead of the presidential election.