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Germany

Merkel's Fans in Washington

Washington is watching Sunday's election and, secretly, hoping for a Merkel victory. But the promise of better relations is off-set by areas of potential dispute.

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What would a Merkel victory mean for transatlantic relations?

Should conservative Angela Merkel sweep to victory in Sunday's elections, it could mean a fresh start for strained US-German relations, according to analysts.

After dipping to new lows under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and his center-left coalition, with differences over Iraq and the partnership linking Germany, France and Russia undermining ties, the relationship seems to have stabilized of late. But a victory by Merkel, an Atlanticist like her mentor Helmut Kohl, could make ties to Washington a lot friendlier.

"What is happening in Germany is a catalyst for change," said Rockwell Schnabel, former US ambassador to the European Union and author of a new book on the EU and its contentious relations with the United States.

Merkel appears to be "a closer friend of the United States and therefore would lead a policy that would be more pro-American and pro-Atlanticist," he added.

Merkel's priorities


After riding a wave of anti-Bush sentiment to victory in 2002, Germany's miserable economic state has forced Schröder to focus on domestic issues in his uphill battle to re-election.

Angela Merkel - Gerhard Schröder ARD-Sendung

Merkel (right) might do things differently than her predecessor (left)

Opinion polls show that Merkel, candidate for the Christian Democrats, has a good chance at becoming the country's first female chancellor. But up to 30 percent of the electorate remains undecided.

Merkel, 51, has said that one of her priorities if elected would be mending the poisoned relationship with the United States, while still not sending troops to Iraq. Washington is also interested in her aggressive pro-free market agenda.

Although Bush officials refuse to publicly comment on the outcome of the Sunday vote, privately they say a Merkel victory would be a welcome change.

A fresh start, without "leftovers"

"If the administration representatives are honest they'll tell you 'Well this is a fresh start and Merkel's victory would be a good thing'," said Jackson Janes, director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

"We got a lot of leftovers with the Schröder team and we'll probably never be able to change that, so if we get a new team in Berlin it's an opportunity."

Jackson Janes

Jackson Janes

Janes (photo) and others warned, however, that if Merkel wins on Sunday, the Bush administration shouldn't rush to pop the champagne corks. "I don't think that we here in Washington should escalate our expectations that her parameters would be significantly bigger than Schröder's," Janes said.

Dieter Dettke, executive director of Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, which is close to Schröder's SPD, in Washington, said that while Merkel would certainly work hard to establish smoother lines of communication with Washington, in substance there could be little change under her administration as far as foreign policy is concerned.


The Turkey question

One likely contentious issue, Janes and Dettke noted, was Merkel's opposition to Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union which put her at odds with Washington.

Nonetheless, analysts say, relations under Merkel are unlikely to be any worse than they have been with Schröder.

"I think that (if Merkel wins) there's going to be much more of an effort to say 'let's see where we agree...'," Janes said. "In the case of Schröder, there was a great deal of concern that they were thinking more about differences rather than commonalities."

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