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Germany

Merkel Aims for Warmed-Up US Ties, Partnership With France

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany will seek to repair ties with the United States while maintaining the German-French axis at the heart of the European Union.

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France's president almost kissed the German chancellor's hand on Wednesday

Merkel's coalition government states in its manifesto that transatlantic relations, though strained over the Iraq war, and European integration remain the "two pillars" of German foreign policy.

Yet Germany's pairing with France, often described as the motor of the 25-nation bloc, faces a severe test of leadership following the rejection of the bloc's proposed constitution by French and Dutch voters this year.

Angela Merkel bei Chirac

Jacques Chirac with Angela Merkel in 2001

Merkel has signalled the importance she attaches to the relationship by scheduling a lunch with French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday, just a day after she was elected German leader.

But her second port of call that day is more of a surprise -- Before heading to London to meet Prime Minister Tony Blair, she will go to Brussels to meet officials from the European Commission.

Merkel, who grew up in then-communist East Germany, has said she wants to listen to the smaller EU nations, including some of the former Eastern bloc countries which she feels have been largely ignored since they joined.

The immediate challenge however is striking a long-awaited deal on the EU budget, a thorny subject due to be tackled when Merkel makes her bow on the European summit stage in Brussels in mid-December.

US relations

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder campaigned for re-election in 2002 on his opposition to a US-led invasion of Iraq, a stance that enraged US President George W. Bush.

Gerhard Schröder bei George Bush

George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder often don't see eye to eye

The scars were still evident when Bush visited Germany in March and it was clear that Schröder and Bush had little personal empathy.

There will be no German troops on Iraqi soil under the new government either, but Merkel has said she wants to ensure that relations with the US are fully repaired.

To that end, she is dispatching Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Washington, probably in December.

Steinmeier may encounter suspicion there -- as Schröder's chief of staff, he was the former chancellor's closest advisor.

Turkey and Poland

A potentially troublesome spat over Turkey may have been headed off by the government's acceptance that the predominantly Muslim nation's bid to join the EU is out of its hands -- the process is expected to last up to 15 years while this government will be in office for four years.

Der türkische Aussenminister Abdullah Gül mit Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel welcomed Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül in Berlin

However Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats have seen their earlier insistence on a privileged partnership with Turkey rather than full membership watered down to the term "privileged relationship," but only if Ankara fails to meet all the criteria.

Merkel will go to Poland on Dec. 2 for a visit likely to be dominated by controversy over a planned centre of remembrance in Berlin for Germans expelled from Poland in revenge for the Nazi invasion of the country.

She has pledged her support for the project, but it is opposed by the incoming Polish leadership.

As far as Germany's increasingly strong relations with Russia are concerned, it will be fascinating to see how they weather the departure of Schröder, who enjoyed a close personal friendship with President Vladimir Putin.

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