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Transatlantic Unity on Marijuana

American and German Youtube users are most interested in asking their respective heads of government about the legalization of marijuana. This seems to be another indication that US and German social media users think much more alike than the political elites do. I am disappointed that more important questions are much less popular.

Last week, Chancellor Merkel responded on the government's Youtube channel to ten questions from citizens. She responded negatively to this questions about the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana which had received the most votes on Youtube:

Wie stehen Sie zur Forderung, den bestehenden Schwarzmarkt für Cannabis durch einen regulierten Markt mit Jugend- und Verbraucherschutz (Kontrolle von Qualität und THC-Gehalt) zu ersetzen und mehr Suchtprävention über Cannabissteuern zu finanzieren?

For Merkel it was the first Youtube Q&A, while President Obama has been conducting three YouTube question-and-answer sessions already. According to CBS News, the session in January 2011 was "as always" dominated by marijuana:

Continue reading "Transatlantic Unity on Marijuana"

Angela Merkel in Washington DC

I wonder what the Obama team is asking the Merkel team right now.

The German election campaign is over. So is the grace period for tough demands for more German support, which the Obama administration probably gave the German government due to the unpopularity of the Afghanistan war.

Angela Merkel also had her big day at Congress calling upon US lawmakers to sign up to internationally binding obligations that global warming must not exceed two degrees celsius. (That's good and brave, but won't help to win friends at Congress.)

Addressing a joint session of Congress was a great honor that comes at a price, says Josef Braml of the German Council on Foreign Relations: "It is a gesture where a service is expected in return: the German government should do more to help shoulder the burden of international commitments." Braml said according to AFP that "the grace period is over -- now we need to deliver."

The AFP article also points out that Merkel's new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, managed to insert a passage into the coalition agreement calling for the estimated 10 to 20 US nuclear warheads in Germany to be removed.

I wonder how team Obama is responding to all that. Are they having tough and frank talks with team Merkel right now? Will anything happen? Reinvigoration of transatlantic cooperation?

Endnote: And the American people? Is Merkel's speech getting noticed and discussed by anyone but the policy wonks and a few bloggers? After all, Merkel is supposed to be "Europe's quiet leader" is according to Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum:

She is, if you like, the anti-Obama: zero charisma, zero glamour, beige pantsuits and a spouse who rarely appears in public. And yet, partly by default and partly by design, Merkel is now the de facto leader of Europe. (.) Under her watch, Germany has continued to grow more powerful, more influential, more dominant than ever before. Yet not only has no one noticed, they applaud and ask for more. If a bull-necked Helmut Kohl or a flashy Gerhard Schroeder were running Germany, there would be rising anxiety and mumbling about the Fourth Reich -- just as there was 20 years ago, at the time of German reunification, when Kohl was still in charge. But Merkel provokes no jealousy or competitiveness among the alpha males who run large countries, and she inspires no fear among the citizens of smaller ones.

German Elections: "Italian Conditions"?

The Economist discusses Germany's political fragmentation. Since quite a few German journalists like to dramatize socio-economic downturns by using the term “American conditions,” I thought I can have a bit of fun by talking about “Italian conditions” as a description of Germany political fragmentation, even though Italy has been much more stable recently. The Economist does not exaggerate that much, although it does claim: “With five parties in the Bundestag, the make-up of the next government could become a lottery.”  

GERMANY’S two big parties— the Volksparteien or “people’s parties”—have long been the pillars of an enviably stable political system. But they have lost ground over the years and, whoever wins the parliamentary election on September 27th, the outcome may be more fragmentation.

Between them, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) captured 90% of the votes cast in national elections in the 1970s. In 2005 their combined vote fell below 70%, forcing them to govern together in a “grand coalition”. The latest polls say their share could sink to around 60% (see chart). “The Volksparteien are coming to an end,” says Peter Lösche, a political scientist. This worries many Germans.

And many other Germans don’t care at all. More and more Germans have lost interest in politics, certainly party politics.

Despite the “fragmentation” of the party system, there is very little excitement or “fear politics”, which I guess is a good thing. The current campaigns for the parliamentary elections on September 27th are very boring! The two leading political candidates – Steinmeier and Merkel -- are the exact opposites of Obama in terms of charisma, vision, emotional appeal, mobilization of supporters, inspiration of hope, reduction of cynicism and apathy etc.

In fact, I doubt whether the election campaigns even started. It’s that quiet. Maybe that’s also good. Politicians might get some work done, if they start campaigning six weeks rather than sixteen months before an election.

It's Business, Not Personal

Chancellor Merkel's first trip to Washington after President Obama's inauguration more than five months ago comes at a time of growing transatlantic tension.

Apparently, the tension is not just based on policy disagreements, like Washington complains about Germany's lack of support for the global stimulus, for the closing of Guantanamo and the for the war in Afghanistan. Rather both US and German journalists describe a strained personal relationship between the two leaders.

How severe is that lack of chemistry? Does it affect German-American cooperation or will the two leaders' pragmatic style of governance be more decisive and lead to improved collabortion? Join the debate on Atlantic Community.

Obama and Merkel are "Trans-Atlantic Frenemies"

"The White House views the chancellor as difficult and Germany is increasingly being left out of the loop," is the conclusion of a good Spiegel International article by Gregor Peter Schmitz and Gabor Steingart. According to them, the "Washington of Barack Obama" considers Merkel's policies "as hesitant. And when it comes to economic matters -- particularly after the experience in battling the financial crisis -- they don't feel she has much expertise."

The label "difficult" is attributable to Merkel's refusal to allow then-presidential candidate Obama to hold a speech at the Brandenburg Gate last summer. They also found it rude and impolitic when she didn't accept an invitation to meet with the newly elected president at the White House in April, despite that fact that both sides had been able to find time in their schedules for a meeting.

Reuters' chief correspondent Noah Barkin, however, puts the blame for the non-meeting on Obama.

The Spiegel article continues to quote two experts on Merkel: According to Dan Hamilton, director of the Trans-Atlantic Center at Johns Hopkins University, German "checkbook diplomacy" is currently experiencing a renaissance. And Stephen Szabo, head of the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, is cited: "France is in right now. The impression is that Germany isn't really of much use at the moment. (...) Paris is no replacement for Berlin in the long-term. (...) The Americans will need the Germans again in their dealings with Russia. After the German elections a new era will begin."

Merkel got back-rubs from Bush, but she gets only a cold shoulder from Obama

Chancellor Merkel is "agonising over a series of slights (perceived or real) from Obama," opines Reuters' chief correspondent Noah Barkin (HT: David)

First came the message from Washington that Obama might not continue the regular video conferences Merkel held with Bush. In the end the White House came around, but it took two months to set one up.

Berlin also got the cold shoulder when Merkel tried to arrange a trip to Washington ahead of a G20 meeting in London at the start of April. Messages from Berlin with proposed dates went unanswered for days until Merkel’s team abandoned the idea completely, an official close to her told me.

This week came the latest signal, at least from Berlin’s perspective, that the Obama team is not taking German concerns seriously. The rescue of Opel, the German unit of U.S. car maker General Motors, has become the central theme of a slow-to-get-started German election campaign that pits Merkel against her Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. A misstep on Opel and Merkel’s bid for a second term could be doomed. But when she called an “Opel summit” for Wednesday to try to save the car maker, her ministers were shocked to see only low-level representation from the U.S. Treasury — a crucial player in the discussions.

G-20 Summit: Merkel and Sarkozy Challenge Obama

Wall Street Journal:

President Barack Obama had more success with former Cold War combatants than with some European allies as the Group of 20 summit of world leaders began, starting new talks on arms and trade with Russia and China but facing a challenge from France and Germany over economic leadership. Mr. Obama began by conceding U.S. culpability in starting the global financial crisis, but also called on Europe and others to do more to end it, in an opening news conference with the summit host, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel answered just hours later with a combative appearance of their own, demanding fast and strict international regulation of the world financial system; Mr. Sarkozy called it "nonnegotiable.

"Unilateral Germany Threatens to Weaken Europe"

Charles Grant, Director of Centre for European Reform, argues that Germany acts unilaterally in five key policy areas and "leaves the EU – and perhaps the Atlantic alliance – weaker."

His Financial Times op-ed is one of today's top press commentaries summarized by Atlantic-community.org:
Germany’s increasingly unilateral foreign policies are causing unrest within the EU and Atlantic alliance. ++ The US, UK and France are frustrated by Berlin’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Iran as well as its limited efforts in Afghanistan. ++ The impending election is a partial explanation for this refusal to engage in bold policies. ++ The generational shift means that today’s politicians see the EU as a tool rather than a principle. ++ This attitude is not threatening; it simply mirrors the French and British brands of nationalism.