David Vickrey, editor of Dialog International, wrote this guest blog post:
When Angela Merkel became Germany's chancellor in 2005 American conservatives were jubilant. Here was a European leader who was not afraid to stand with George W. Bush and his Iraq War policy. Conservatives were enthralled with Merkel's personal biography, her rejection of the perceived anti-Americanism her predecessor and her embrace of market solutions. Surely her political victory would mark a new beginning for the frayed Atlantic alliance, a new strategic partnership based on conservative principles.
But 2005 now seems like long ago, and Angela Merkel has turned out to be something of a disappointment to American conservatives.
Sure, there is still a strong personal affinity between her and the US president: Merkel, unlike Gerhard Schröder, was welcomed at the Bush home in Crawford, Texas. On the other hand, the chancellor has not used her office to support the Bush administration's call for sending German combat troops to Afghanistan. She has openly called for shutting down the US prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, angering many in Washington's neoconservative establishment. She has emerged as a leader combating global climate change, which carries with it an implicit criticism of the Bush administrations inaction on that front. Many conservatives are surprised that the pace of economic reforms in Germany under Merkel's leadership has slowed, and in some instances reform policies of the former Red/Green government have been reversed.
The fact that Merkel seeks to have a different relationship with Russia than the openly hostile one pursued now in Washington also rankles many American conservatives. Writing for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Nile Gardiner complained bitterly that "the notion that Chancellor Angela Merkel (is) ushering in a new era of transatlantic cooperation, with Europe and the United States walking hand in hand solving the world's problems is a romanticized fiction that bears little relation to reality."
But Angela Merkel is nothing if not a political realist: she cannot afford to ignore the "leftward shift" (Linksruck) that is taking place in Germany. Germans are worried about the impact of globalization on the economy. A recent report showed that a record 13% of Germans were living below the poverty level ; another research report by McKinsey determined that the German middle class is shrinking at an alarming rate. This deep sense of economic insecurity has contributed to the surprising rise of The Left party (Die LINKE) which has emerged as Germany's third strongest political party, siphoning off disgruntled Social Democrats. Angela Merkel has taken advantage of the disarray within the SPD of seizing the great Middle (die Mitte) for the Christian Democrats, acknowledging that the Middle has been shifting to the left. Here she has used the classic Clintonesque triangulation techniques practiced by her predecessor and usurped some the main issues of her opponents, such as health care reform, renewable energy policy, and balancing the budget instead of cutting taxes.
The question is, how far can Angela Merkel move her party to the left without alienating the CDU base? Already some have accused her of abandoning the free market guiding principles of her party. The political commentator Ulrich Claus published an op-ed piece in the conservative daily Die Welt with the title "Merkel is Schröderizing the CDU" (Merkel zerschrödert die CDU) . He quotes one disgruntled CDU member : "When Angela Merkel is finished with the CDU it will look like the SPD after Schröder." Just how far and how long expediency will trump ideology within the CDU remains to be seen. But for the time being, be prepared for some surprises. Just last month the CDU formed a governing coalition in Hamburg with the Green Party, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. But now some are seeing Black-Green as a possible model for the Christian Democrats on a national scale. Yes, there is the old saying "politics makes for strange bedfellows", but the recent leftward drift of Germany's conservatives makes an alliance with the Greens entirely feasible and not so strange after all.
David Vickrey is the editor of Dialog International, a blog about German-American relations, politics and culture, and a US citizen.