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Germany

Opinion: Germany's Foreign Policy Shift

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in office but two months and she's already outrun her predecessors in the popularity stakes. Klaus Dahmann believes that could have something to do with her foreign policy.

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The popularity queen is making ripples in German foreign policy

During the federal election campaign last year, Merkel was the subject of superficial criticism from the German press for such misdemeanors as an old-fashioned hair cut and lips which turn down making her smiles appear forced. Who would have believed that this very same woman would so quickly run rings around her predecessor, media-savvy Gerhard Schröder in terms of popularity? And who could have imagined that her foreign policy would be so convincing?

In Washington, the Chancellor proved that criticism and friendship are not mutually exclusive. Doubtless, she was able to take advantage of the undiplomatic manner in which Schröder rejected the Iraq war and offended US President George Bush's sensitivities. Bu Angela Merkel has done more than milk this bonus, she has proved how things should be done.

Angela Merkel in Washington USA George Bush

U.S. President George W. Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel

During her first visit to Washington, she criticized the Guantanamo detention centre, an issue which her predecessor was at pains to avoid. Merkel remained matter-of-fact, without alienating the US government. And even though her criticism received nothing more than the standard response, she at least made herself heard.

Creating distance

In Moscow, Merkel made her position even clearer. Her meeting with the Russian President, Vladimir Putin was harmonious, but her behavior was eons away from that of Schröder, who nurtured a chummy, non-critical approach to the Russian head of state. She was the first German leader to broach more than the evident and ongoing issue of Chechnya, and when she called for a meeting of representatives of non-government organizations, she got what she wanted.

Under Merkel, relations between Paris and Berlin are also expected to lose the brotherhood sheen in which both Schröder and his buddy, French President, Jacques Chirac immersed them, and which neither the French nor the German public ever really bought into.

Angela Merkel bei Jacques Chirac Frankreich

French President Jacques Chirac tries to charm Angela Merkel

Germany and France no longer operate as the engine of Europe, and they haven't since the French people voted against the EU constitution in spring of last year. That fiasco not only propelled Europe into a state of crisis, but also severely weakened Chirac's position in the Union.

Striding alone?

However close Chirac and Merkel may be in terms of their politics, she will have to depend on other, more stable European partners while in Paris. That said, at the last EU summit, she made it clear when she came up with a solution to the complex issue of Britain's budget rebate, that she is also capable of running the show alone. Although Merkel's strategies of greater friendliness towards Bush, more distance towards Putin and greater sobriety towards France do not constitute fundamental changes in German foreign policy, when it comes to diplomacy it is the tone which counts. And the new Chancellor's tone is distinctly different to that of Gerhard Schröder, and thus far, a tuneful success.

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