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Trans-Atlantic Change

DW Staff (msh)
November 5, 2008

Lawmakers in Berlin hope US President-elect Barack Obama will forge closer partnerships with allies than his predecessor. But Europeans expect the cooperation to come with some strings attached.

Obama next to Merkel in July
Chancellor Merkel wants Obama to return to Berlin soonImage: AP

In a letter to Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel invited him to return to Germany on an official visit soon.

"Before the beginning of your term in office, the world is facing considerable challenges," Merkel wrote. "I am convinced that Europe and the US will work together closely and in good faith to tackle these new risks and dangers, whilst also making good use of the many chances which are presenting themselves in our globalised world."

German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier said the United States has chosen change both at home and abroad by electing Obama as president. Steinmeier said he hopes for some changes in his own working life too, and he pointed out the promises Obama made in his campaign speech in Berlin in July.

Plenty of room for cooperation

Obama waves to a crowd of thousands in Berlin
Berlin gave Obama the warmest of welcomes in JulyImage: AP

"Obama strongly advocated breathing new life into trans-Atlantic relations," Steinmeier said. "So, I am looking forward to cooperating with the new US government."

The German minister added that he hoped for closer cooperation with the United States on fighting climate change and ensuring energy security -- two topics that also featured in Obama's Berlin speech.

Over 100,000 people turned out to watch Obama's speech in Berlin this summer where he stressed that the US and Europe could only tackle current political and financial challenges by working together. It was the first time that a US presidential candidate held what amounted to a campaign rally in the German capital.

Two-way street

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, the secretary-general of the conservative Christian Social Union party, said Obama wasn't talking about a one-way street when he mentioned cooperation.

"That promise has made us Germans break out into a blind, hysterical euphoria," Guttenberg said. "But that alone is not enough. Multilateralism also means really taking on challenges and issues together. We will realize that this is the case when issues like Afghanistan -- though Obama also mentioned Sudan and other corners of the globe -- come up."

German Bundeswehr soldiers in Afghanistan
The US wants more NATO troops in AfghanistanImage: AP

The Bush government has repeatedly asked NATO partners like Germany to send more troops to Afghanistan to help fight the Taliban insurgency in the country. Obama is likely to ask for similar commitments, according to the Karsten Voigt, who is Germany's coordinator of German-American relations.

"The US will say, 'You Europeans can make a difference if you work with us to solve global problems, for instance by helping in Afghanistan, or by helping rebuild Iraq's economy, or by working more closely with us in the Middle East.'" Voigt said. "Then we will also have to talk about a collective policy on Russia, where, as Europeans, our geographic situation gives us special experience and interests."

Cooperative, but not soft

Voigt said he thinks Obama will not always be an easy partner for Germany to work with, even if he is more open in his approach.

Other lawmakers have warned that the wave of excitement surrounding Obama at the moment shouldn't mean that nations like Germany turn into lap dogs for the new US president. Former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said Germany must stand up for itself on issues like military service in Afghanistan.

Steinmeier and Merkel
Merkel and Steinmeier were all smiles after Obama's winImage: AP

"I really hope that Europe doesn't just sit there and ask, 'So, how many soldiers should we send?'" Genscher said. "Instead, I want Europe to tell the new US government what we expect from them, and I hope that we will be able to talk in this manner with the new president, who was elected partly because he has promised to do business differently."

Germany's President Horst Koehler, who holds largely ceremonial duties, also wrote to the President-elect Obama, promising that Germany would be "a reliable partner and a friend for years to come."

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