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Germany

A Vote for Better US-German Relations

As the US goes to the polls, German politicians across all parties have expressed their hope that the next administration brings an improvement in transatlantic ties, regardless of who the president is.

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Berlin hopes the next US president works to improve transatlantic ties

Relations between the current Washington administration and Berlin have been strained since the center-left government of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder refused to support George W. Bush in the war against Iraq. When American troops marched into Iraq without the support of the United Nations and all of the NATO allies, ties between Germany and the US plummeted to an all-time post-war low.

A year later, Iraq remains a touchstone of bilateral relations as discussions center around reconstruction and security efforts in the war-torn country. But beyond Iraq, questions about Washington's pre-emptive strike policy, the role of the United Nations, climate control, the International Court and free trade agreements continue to put the transatlantic partnership to the test.

As a result, politicians in Germany have carefully avoided showing public preference for one of the US presidential candidates. Although many may echo the rest of the population in favoring John F. Kerry, they have been cautious not to alienate Bush.

No matter who the next leader of the United States is, German politicians are hoping for an improvement in diplomatic ties between the two countries during the next four years. It may not be that easy though, and Germany is likely to have to pay a price.

New responsibility for Germany

Wolfgang Schäuble, foreign policy spokesman for the conservative opposition Christian Democrats Union, cautioned that a change in US leadership could mean Germany taking on greater responsibility.

"Our demands for multilateral decision-making and a stronger partnership in transatlantic relations are entirely justified," he said. "But at the same time, we should also recognize that this also entails greater efforts on our side."

"It's absurd to believe that we can tell the Americans what to do while we refuse to get involved," Schäuble said in the run-up to the US election on Nov. 2.

The party leader for the neo-liberal Free Democrats, Guido Westerwelle, has said the promise of "rejuvenated and rebalanced ties" between Germany and the United States will come at a price. If Kerry should win -- as many in Germany and Europe hope is the case -- the democratic president will place new demands on Berlin.

"This must not necessarily mean that Germany will be asked to send troops to Iraq," he said. "But I expect that a greater role for the German military will indeed be among Kerry's plans for our involvement in other regional hot spots."

The Kerry conundrum

Many experts believe John Kerry would indeed press Chancellor Schröder even harder than Bush to join American efforts in Iraq. If that is the case, the German leader will find himself in an extremely difficult position torn between taking on more international responsibility on the one hand, and sending German troops to Iraq -- a scenario he has categorically rejected.

Schröder's advisor for transatlantic relations, Karsten Voigt, has said the chancellor will not rescind his opposition to military intervention. "In spite of statements by Kerry that he wants to involve his European partners more closely and even the likelihood that Bush will approach Europeans with a new initiative, we cannot depart from our position that German troops will not be sent to Iraq, no matter who will be the next president."

Redirecting the focus

Germany's Greens, the junior coalition partner in Schröder's government, have called for the next US president to put more focus on areas other than the fight against terrorism. Party co-leader Claudia Roth has said the new administration in Washington needs to be more pro-active on environmental issues.

"It begins with taking on a greater role in global environmental policy, especially in the field of climate protection which has been entirely abandoned by the Bush administration," she said referring to the current president's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Other areas neglected by the United States are human rights and the International Court, whose job it is to prosecute and punish gross violations of such rights."

"America should be involved in all of this and should not chose to stand on the sidelines," Roth said.

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