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Germany's Growing Foreign Policy Role and the Love for Merkel

"Chancellor Merkel gets high marks as Germany prepares to lead the EU next year and host the G-8 summit." writes Andreas Tzortzis in the Christian Science Monitor article "Germany's role grows as agenda-setter."
I understand that many Americans appreciate Merkel, because they strongly disliked Schroeder, but I am nevertheless surprised, when the Monitor's Germany correspondent opines that Merkel is "able to share George W. Bush's fervor for freedom" because she was "raised in a former communist regime." This seems to be another indication that the so-called liberal US media is not anti-Bush. Besides, Merkel was not a dissident in East Germany. I think most American journalists overestimate the influence, which Merkel's East German past has on her foreign policy. Quote from the article:
While not drastically changing the foreign-policy course set by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, she has replaced his emphasis on emotional, personal ties with a sort of friendly distance.  Raised in a former communist regime, she's able to share George W. Bush's fervor for freedom and still criticize US policy in Guantanamo Bay. In fluent Russian, she can praise Germany's close partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin and then raise questions about Moscow's treatment of NGOs and the deaths of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former spy Alexander Litvinenko. The result, says Hans-Ulrich Klose, a foreign policy expert in the Social Democratic Party, is a head of state who can boast solid relationships with leaders in Washington, Europe, and the Middle East - vital assets in the months ahead. "She addresses critical topics ... but she doesn't do it in the way that the person across from her feels challenged or hurt," says Mr. Klose. "She's not a confrontational person."
It's a good article overall. The praise for Chancellor Merkel, however, is exaggerated. And the fact that the Egyptian president and the Israeli prime minister visited Berlin within two days is not special or new for Germany. (The Monitor makes the mistake of calling Ehud Olmert the Israeli "president.") Phrases like "fervor for freedom" might be popular US election campaign rhetoric, but you don't hear such rhetoric in Germany, certainly not in newspapers. ("Fervor" is American English for the German words: Eifer, Leidenschaft, Inbrunst, Glut.) Nobody in Germany describes Merkel or any other politicians with such phrases. Anyway, it's not fervor that counts, but results. History will judge President Bush by his track record regarding the spread and increase of freedom rather than his "fervor".

In the New Statesman article "Europe's Saviour," Roger Boyes expresses his preference of Merkel over former chancellors Kohl and Schroeder and argues that Merkel could "shine" during Germany's upcoming EU and G8 presidency, but concludes that Merkel will fail:
Europe is in a leadership vacuum. Ségo versus Sarko in France, an uneasy handover in Britain, Prodi wobbly, post-election Holland and Austria without governments, Sweden moulting ministers, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all in varying degrees of mess. One could add: a limping White House, and a Kremlin preparing for succession.
If ever there was a time for Germany to assert its new-found confidence, this would be it. The economy is recovering strongly. Political opposition is virtually irrelevant, because a grand coalition of Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists can cook up more or less what it wants. And yet Germany's 2007 agenda looks ambitious for an incrementalist such as Merkel. Reviving the European constitution; securing Europe's energy supplies; a more dynamic European policy on the Middle East; an accord with Russia signed and sealed before Vladimir Putin heads off to a retirement job at Gazprom; a firmer line on Turkey; breaking the regulatory grip of Brussels on industry; controlling hedge funds: these are just some of the aims percolating in Berlin. But remember how Tony Blair declared his intention to save Africa, and failed? Angela Merkel is out to save Europe. And failure, sad to say, is almost certain.
Boyes ends with: "Europe, in search of a national leader, will still be searching for one when nice Mrs Merkel has had her year in the spotlight." Well, I don't think Europe is searching for a national leader. The idea that the German chancellor could lead and the rest of Europe follows is ridiculous. Instead, every EU member has to increase efforts to find compromises for various EU issues, make tough decisions and sell them to the public despite domestic resistance. That's how it works. No "national leader" can change that and "lead" Europe.


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David on :

How much "love" is there for Merkel just now in Germany? I had the impression that people were pretty disappointed with her leadership style (or lack thereof). The whole health care reform initiative has been something of a fiasco. I've read, however, that her most recent polling numbers have been a bit more positive. It can't be easy to be chancellor in a Grand Coalition with one's arch rival.

Don S on :

The idea that any European leader can lead Europe is of course ludicrous. I'm tempted to quip that the idea that any current European leader could lead his or her own country out of a paper bag is ludicrous. As for Boyes assertion that Merkel's career will end in failure I would quote Disraeli (I think) "All political careers end in failure". I think that is very true - with the natation that some political failures are far more catastrophic than others. Hitler's gotterdammerung in the rubble of a burning Berlin was rather worse than Schroeder's election loss was or George Bush's retirement will be. Merkel will achieve some things but in the end disillusion will set in and she will fail. Even Charles De Gualle failed in the end. I'm not sure about Adenauer but didn't he have a couple unsure years at the end of his tenure?

Mad Minerva on :

I'm tempted indeed to agree with Don that leading EU member states is like herding cats. Anyway, I'm something of a Euro-skeptic to begin with, though certainly it's possible to have decent EU leaders as opposed to utterly useless or even harmful ones. I suppose we should couch very carefully the definition of "success" when it comes to Merkel or, really, anybody else leading the EU. I suspect "success" can only be achieved on a rather smallish scale? As for Boyes's statement that Merkel is out to save Europe...This somehow assumes that Europe CAN be saved in that way, by the leadership of a single person. I doubt that, really, because no matter how good Merkel's intentions or even how good her policies, she would be fighting the gigantic weight and momentum (or is it "inertia"? hm) of the entire EU superstructure and bureaucratic inanity. I do wish Angie luck, though, because I'm afraid she's going to need all the luck she can get--and more.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

I agree: "success" can only be achieved on a rather smallish scale.

Don S on :

Success may come as a result of apparent failure. For example the possible collapse of the euro if some of the weaker economies are forced to pull out. Italy seems to be on the brink, as are (possibly) Greece and Portugal. Will that make the euro collapse? I dunno. Seems to me it might well survive as the common currency of a few nations with mature economies closely coupled together, with everyone else on a 'slow track' to integration and their economic growth not shackled to a set of handcuffs denominated in euros. Why? Seems to me that the euro is not a complete disaster in Germany, Nederlands, France, Ireland, Austria, and maybe Belgium snd Spain (not sure about the latter two). The big trouble spots seem to be Italy, Greece, and Eastern Europe. So if those countries were to be allowed to drop out or have their currency decoupled from the euro - well the inner core might soldier on very well without them.

joe on :

So having saved Germany, it is now on to more difficult tasks? Is this what is being forecasted? Sounds good to me.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Joe, I am not sure what you mean by "So having saved Germany, it is now on to more difficult tasks?" This sounds good: "Germany planning tougher European policy on Russia - Europe MOSCOW: A German plan to forge a new European policy on relations with Russia will be toughened to reflect the erosion of human rights, the murder of a prominent journalist and the use of energy as a political weapon under President Vladimir Putin, senior government officials said Wednesday. The plan, outlined in an internal paper prepared last October by the Foreign Ministry, will be presented to the European Union when Germany takes over the six-month presidency on January 1." [url][/url] I have not figured out yet, what exactly is planned for the German EU and G8 presidency. Merkel was rather vague in her speech (which was to be expected, I guess), but you might want to check out this English summary for the main topics anyway: [url][/url] Steinmeier has given interviews playing down the big expectations many folks in Europe seem to have. This page should have more info on January 1st, 2007: [url][/url]

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Presidency Programme available now: „Europe – succeeding together“ 1 January to 30 June 2007 35 pages, pdf: [url][/url] Quotes: ### "The German Presidency will press for the [b]strengthening of transatlantic relations on the political and economic stage.[/b] One summit with the United States and one with Canada will be held. The intensified dialogue and cooperation with the United States will centre around selected topics such as the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the fight against terrorism and energy security. Germany will aim to reach an agreement on cooperation between the EU and the United States in the area of civilian crisis management. The implementation of the Transatlantic Economic Initiative will focus on regulatory cooperation, innovation and technology, trade and security, capital markets, energy and the protection of intellectual property." ### "One way in which the EU’s capacity to deploy civilian and military crisis prevention and management tools is to be strengthened is through the Headline Goal processes (Headline Goal 2010 for the armed forces, Civilian Headline Goal 2008). Particular attention will be given to the [b]European rapid response battlegroups, which will be available for operations in crisis areas from 1 January 2007.[/b] Civil-military cooperation in the planning and implementation of ESDP operations is to be bolstered to improve the ESDP’s scope for independent action. The operations centre, which will be ready from early 2007, will be activated when needed. Finally, the [b]strategic partnership between the EU and NATO [/b]is to be expanded by intensifying political dialogue and cooperation in the fields of deployment and the development of capabilities." ### "The stabilization of the [b]Balkans [/b]depends heavily on upholding and concretizing the prospect of EU accession through the stabilization and association process, while adhering strictly to the criteria of the Commission’s four-stage plan and taking account of the EU’s capacity to absorb new members." ### "The Presidency will pay particular attention to the strategically significant region of [b]Central Asia[/b]. The EU plans to adopt a strategy on Central Asia defining its interests and objectives. Political dialogue with the region is to be expanded." ### "The Presidency will work towards further stabilization of the situation in [b]Lebanon [/b]and, together with its partners in the EU and the Middle East Quartet, actively seek ways to arrive at a comprehensive peace solution for the Middle East conflict. Another of the[b] most urgent[/b] challenges will be to continue efforts to find a peaceful solution to the dispute concerning the [b]Iranian nuclear programme.[/b] The Presidency will elaborate proposals on intensifying its partnership with the Gulf Cooperation Council. It will continue to support the political, social and economic reconstruction process in [b]Iraq[/b]. With regard to Afghanistan, Germany will call for [b]an increase in EU commitment within the Afghanistan Compact programme.[/b]"

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