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Dealing With the USA

Interview: Nathan Wiktop (sjr)November 8, 2007

Just after French President Nicolas Sarkozy flies out of the US, German Chancellor Angela Merkel flies in. Both European leaders have sought to improve their ties with the US, but the trio doesn't agree on everything.

U.S. President George W. Bush, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel address a news conference at the White House on Jan. 13, 2006
Merkel -- the U.S.'s original sceptical friendImage: AP

DW-RADIO spoke with John Hulsman, an Alfred von Oppenheim scholar in residence at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

DW-RADIO: A lot has been said about how Nicolas Sarkozy in France and Angela Merkel in Germany have turned around their relationships with the US since the Iraq invasion. How aligned is Europe now with Washington on international issues?

John Hulsman: The fascinating thing about the big three, and I'd throw the United Kingdom in there as well, is that they are all coming to a similar position.

Montage of Merkel, Sarkozy and Brown in front of a European flag
Could Merkel, Sarkozy and Brown usher in a new era of EU-US relations?Image: AP Graphics/DW

Mr. Sarkozy looked at the Chirac presidency and saw that France had absolutely no stake in the Middle East after opposing the Americans over Iraq. That he was, in effect, too far away from America to be a major decision player -- and that's one thing French presidents, regardless of their politics, all want to be. So he needs to move closer to America to matter.

Gordon Brown has the opposite problem. Tony Blair moved too close to President Bush and it ruined his premiership, so Gordon Brown moved slightly away from the United States, while retaining close ties.

And they both row to an island where they find Angela Merkel who staked out this position of "skeptical friendship" ahead of time. Which is that of course we support America. Of course America's an ally, and we share values but that doesn't mean we're your lapdog and we're going to agree with you issue after issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives in the US on Friday. Do you think she’ll receive a warm a welcome?

Bush greets Merkel with a kiss on the cheek
Merkel and Bush share a mutual respect for each otherImage: AP

Yes, President Bush thinks extremely highly of Chancellor Merkel. She's proven to be not flamboyant, not showy but to get the job done diplomatically behind closed doors. Again [she has] this kind of European view of skeptical friendship. That we need the United States, we must work with them but that we're not going to be their lapdog. This is really her invention.

The atmospherics after Chancellor Schröder were awful, and Chancellor Merkel entered very clear and in a straight way by saying that America remains a great ally of Germany but that doesn't mean she's in favor of Guantanamo Bay, renditions, torture, etc.

What will Chancellor Merkel be talking about in her discussions with President Bush?

It's a number of issues that I don't think grab attention but really matter. For instance, her plans to free up currency flows between Europe and the United States by talking about common regulations. This is an issue that will take years -- if not decades -- to negotiate but will actually help both European and American economies immensely. In the absence of a free trade deal this may be the closest we can get to actually improving cooperation between our two huge and important economies.

Certainly the other issue will be Chancellor Merkel's signature issue, which is climate change. Can we reach some sort of post-Kyoto protocol? This again is going to take a very long time and probably won't be decided until President Bush has a successor. But she has moved the president to say things like "actually climate change is a problem," and that was a huge change from when President Bush came into office. That's entirely due to Chancellor Angela Merkel chipping away at him from outside and [California] Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger chipping away at President Bush from within the country.