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Germany

Experts: Merkel Putting Germany First in Election Year

Domestic interests are beginning to set policy as German Chancellor Angela Merkel positions herself to vie for re-election in September. That means disappointments for some of Germany's international partners.

Angela Merkel in front of a map of Europe

Merkel will put Europe's struggles behind her and concentrate on the home front

Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, together with their preferred coalition partner the Free Democrats, may be attracting a solid majority in recent public-opinion polls. But Merkel is surely aware of how volatile the political situation is in these economically troubled times.

So the chancellor, experts say, is already realigning her government's policies to appeal to the home-front. The most recent example came last weekend, when Merkel led opposition to a proposed 180 billion euro ($226 billion) aid package for eastern European economies at an EU summit in Brussels.

"The concerns in the German population about jobs and the economic outlook are huge," Klaus-Peter Schoeppner, the head of polling group Emnid, told Reuters news agency. "Against that backdrop, I really don't see a way for Merkel to explain to the voters that Germany must help out other countries, whether they are in the euro bloc or outside."

Merkel also remained tight-lipped last week when asked whether Germany would come to the aid of countries like Ireland that have been hit particularly badly by the global financial crisis.

"It will be very difficult, especially in an election year, to explain to German voters that they -- or rather their children or grandchildren -- should pay for the weaknesses of other governments," Wolfgang Nowak, the head of a Deutsche Bank think tank, told Reuters.

But Merkel's strategy is also not without risks and ambiguities.

The Opel dilemma

Opel worker protesting

Merkel has to make a difficult choice when it somes to saving Opel jobs

Some foreign experts have said the Germany-first turn in Merkel policies could damage Germany's standing abroad and end up hurting the country's own economy.

Germany thrives on exports, and a majority of its products are sold within the EU and more than 40 percent within the euro zone.

"There needs to be a bit more honesty about Germany's dependence on others," the head of London's Centre for European Reform, Simon Tilford, told Reuters. "If a crisis in one euro member spread, then Germany's trade surplus could vanish and the economy would be in far deeper trouble than it already is."

Moreover, even in the short term, it's often difficult to determine which course of action is in the national interest -- as is evident with the carmaker Opel.

The European subsidiary of troubled US giant GM would like some 3.3 billion euros in aid from Berlin in return for saving the jobs of the company's 26,000 German employees.

But were Merkel's government to agree to such a bail-out, it would potentially open the floodgates for other companies to argue that they, too, merited assistance.

Troops for Afghanistan

Bundeswehr troops in Afghanistan

Merkel is not likely to send any more soldiers to Afghanistan

The economy isn't the only area where the chancellor may have to disappoint some of Germany's allies.

In particular, Merkel is likely to resist ongoing pressure from the United States for America's NATO partners to contribute more toward establishing security in Afghanistan.

In February, Germany agreed to deploy 600 more troops in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of German forces, stationed in the relatively peaceful north of the country, available for that conflict to more than 4,000.

But Merkel flatly rejected the idea that those troops could be called to the serve in more dangerous southern Afghanistan.

That would risk angering voters at home, something Merkel is keen to avoid some sixth months before she puts her own political future up for a vote.

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