The new US ambassador to Germany is trying to strengthen transatlantic relations. But some grumble that he is a key beneficiary of anti-trade tariffs that have hurt German business and not the right man for the job.
No diplomatic experience but good intentions
Arriving in Germany in late August, new US ambassador William R. Timken Jr. stressed what he said were Germany and the US' mutual priorities to promote freedom while downplaying differences over the Iraq war.
"Our two countries' shared values and efforts to advance freedom and prosperity have served as beacons of hope for many around the world," he told reporters. "As I speak, Americans and Germans are working side by side to promote stability in Afghanistan, sustainable development in Africa and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Timken, 66, who lacks any diplomatic experience, served as finance co-chairman for Bush's 2004 presidential campaign in Ohio, the state that gave Bush his margin of victory. He is also a major Republican contributor with the "ranger" status, which is given to those who contribute more than 159,000 euros ($200,000) to Republican coffers during a campaign cycle. Timken replaces former US Senator Daniel Coats, who left Berlin in February after three years as ambassador.
Since his departure, transatlantic relations, which suffered under German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's vocal opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, have been gradually improving. That said, relations between the two countries are little more than cordial.
Some say wrong man
Timken has stressed he wants to improve the relationship, but some in Germany say he is the wrong choice.
German businesses being hurt by protective tariffs
"Timken, one of the biggest beneficiaries of a trade policy that violates the (World Trade Organization) ruling, has been named ambassador to a country whose businesses suffer as a result of this policy," Jürgen Geissinger, CEO of the Schaeffler Group and president of the Federation of European Bearing Manufacturers Association told German news magazine Der Spiegel.
Timken recently resigned as chairman of the board of the Timken Co., an alloy steel and bearings manufacturer based in Canton, Ohio, that employs 26,000 people worldwide and rung up sales of 3.59 billion euros last year. Timken served as chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers, an influential business lobby in Washington, and his former company does business in Germany.
Geissinger added that German bearing manufacturers have paid out millions in protective tariffs, much of which goes into their American competitors' pockets, competitors such as Timken's former company. The WTO ruled this practice illegal in 2003 in response to a complaint by the EU and other states. The US has ignored the ruling, spurred on by Timken's former company.
Wants to promote business
So far, German politicians have declined to comment on the issue. As has Timken himself. But speaking at his Senate confirmation hearings in July, he said his key priority was "strengthening business confidence and promoting American exports."
The German election will impact transatlantic relations
That task has become a little tougher since the EU slapped American imports with special tariffs in May. But if conservative chancellor candidate Angela Merkel wins on Sept. 18, transatlantic relations will probably become friendlier. Timken has already met with foreign ministry officials to coordinate German aid to the victims of hurricane Katrina.