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Opinion: Did Iraq Really Hurt German-American Business Ties?

Now that U.S. President Bush and German Chancellor Schröder have patched things up, what's going on with their two countries' economic relations? Deutsche Welle's Rolf Wenkel offers his reflections.

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Gerhard and George shook hands and made up in New York on Wednesday.

No matter how unfounded and pointless a war may be, if it is waged by Americans, the U.S. population always reacts patriotically. So it came as no surprise that there was an outcry in the German media in the spring. Since German Chancellor Schröder and French President Chirac didn't want to help Bush in Iraq, the newsmakers lamented, the Americans were sure to boycott our fine European products.

Imprudent archconservative American senators confirmed their fears and issued the calls for boycotts. And the German media quickly dug up corresponding stories, from the nosedive in sales of French cheese and red wine in the United States, to renaming "French fries" "freedom fries," to the Bavarian company Keim that suddenly lost the privilege to coat the Pentagon with its special mineral paints.

Senator Steve LaTourette, -- doesn't sound all that American, could it be that his grandfather was French? -- a Republican from Ohio, convinced Congress that German paints were not appropriate for the Pentagon during wartime, what with the Germans on the wrong side.

It was definitely a bitter setback for German-American economic relations, despite the fact that Keim paints already bedecked the Capitol, the New York Stock Exchange and Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington. The firm had even touched up the Pentagon's western façade after one of the planes flew into it on September 11.

Strangely quiet

Since then the experts and business functionaries who tried to persuade us that Chancellor Schröder damaged German-American business ties with his policies on Iraq have been strangely quiet. Not only since Gerhard and George shook hands last week in a New York hotel and promised to get along, no, it was strangely quiet even before that.

But the explanation is simple: The pundits ran out of steam.

Already in February a poll carried out in the United States by the consultancy Droege showed that not even 1 percent of German firms had recorded measurable declines in business. There were no indications at all of problems between Germans and Americans. On the contrary, the revival of the U.S. economy led to an increase in opportunities for German companies.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Economic Development Corporation of North Rhine-Westphalia revealed that 560 American companies were located in that western German state alone. Their yearly turnover is €53 billion, and they employ 170,000 people. On top of that, 39 percent of the companies plan to invest in Germany over the next three years.

Fish stories

The clamor about damaged German-American business ties was actually just a crock.

But we should have known that from the start. It's obvious when you come across news like Wednesday's announcement that Munich-based Siemens had sealed a $200 million deal for its air conditioning, ventilation, fire safety and security systems. The contractor is the U.S. Army; the parts will be installed in governmental and administrative buildings.

Besides that, Keim from Bavaria has been contracted to paint again. This time, however, it won't do the Pentagon -- the Bavarian company lost that contract. Instead, Keim will paint the White House.

Rolf Wenkel

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