You award Chancellor Merkel on Tuesday the Medal of Freedom, the highest distinction for a civil leader in the US. What qualities do you appreciate in her that might distinguish her from other European leaders?
I felt Chancellor Merkel was a perfect choice for the Medal of Freedom because she embodies the promise of freedom and the opportunities of democracy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, she broke barriers, becoming the first East German – and the first woman – to become Chancellor of Germany. To me, my fellow Americans and people around the world, the story of Angela Merkel is an inspiration. As she has said, and her life story demonstrates, “Freedom does not come about of itself. It must be struggled for, and then defended anew, every day of our lives.” Moreover, Chancellor Merkel is a genuine friend of America and a steadfast advocate for the U.S.-German alliance. I very much look forward to presenting her with the medal at the State Dinner.
The style of the relationship between Presidents and Chancellors has changed over time. Helmut Kohl, Boris Yeltsin, George Bush Senior hugged each other. George W. Bush gave Angela Merkel a neck massage. The body language between you, Mr. President, and the Chancellor seems different – some say, more respectful. Others say, more sober. Why is that? Are both of you different types of leaders compared to the previous generation? Is it due to the dire circumstances like war, recession, crisis?
I always enjoy working with Chancellor Merkel, and I consider her to be a good friend and one of my closest global partners. That’s one of the reasons her visit to Washington will be the first Official Visit and State Dinner for a European leader during my presidency. This will be the 10th time we have had face-to-face discussions since I became president and that’s in addition to our frequent conversations by telephone and video teleconference. My friendship with Chancellor Merkel is based on my deep respect and admiration for her as a leader and the fact that I trust her when she makes a commitment. Our nations have faced many challenges together since my first day in office, and I’m personally very grateful to Chancellor Merkel for her friendship and partnership.
When I grew up, we had recessions from time to time. There was a reliable pattern: The recovery in the USstarted earlier and the growth rates were higher compared to Europeand especially Germany. This time it’s different. Germanycoped better with the recent recession than the US. Why – and is there anything Americacould learn from the German example?
I’m grateful that the economies of both our countries are growing, even if our paths to growth have not always been the same. I recognize that we have very different histories that inform our policies. Americahas deep memories of the high unemployment rates of the Depression while Germanyhad a scarring experience with inflation. But our fundamental goals are the same -- we agree on the need to ensure that markets work well, and that both Germanyand the United States need to be at the center of efforts to ensure that global growth is sustainable and balanced. Germany, like a lot of other European countries, has had to make some tough choices in terms of spending and budget cuts, and this is something we’re dealing with as well. We’re all working on finding the right balance between providing the support the economy needs for a strong recovery and taking the steps that are required to guarantee our long-term fiscal sustainability. Germanyhas done a great job on employment, and I understand that there are more Germans currently employed than ever in the history of unified Germany. Many of its companies are finding creative ways to grow in a rapidly changing economy – including a focus on green jobs and new technology -- things we’re focusing on in the U.S., too.