Germany′s Obamania Soon to Face Reality Test | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.01.2009
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Germany's Obamania Soon to Face Reality Test

As the world awaits the inauguration of the next US president, expectations are running high in Germany as well. But issues like Afghanistan, the environment and the auto industry are likely to cause friction soon.

Barack Obama shakes hands with supporters after giving a speech at the Victory Column in Berlin on July 24, 2008

Political superstars don't exist in Germany

When Barack Obama raises his right hand on Tuesday and takes the presidential oath, a new era will begin. His eloquence and charisma alone are bound to bring the new style that many -- both in the US and abroad -- are hoping for after George W. Bush's term draws to a close.

However, the situation isn't simple. The US is currently facing the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. Its military is involved in two wars. From the Middle East to North Korea, foreign policy is difficult at best. During the presidential race, ambitious domestic projects were promised, like health care reform and a new energy policy.

Great expectations

The man who now has it all on his shoulders is 47 years old, has no experience in government, and hasn't even completed a full legislature period in the US Senate.

Nevertheless, expectations are high -- particularly from abroad. Germany's hopes in Obama were clearly evident when he visited Berlin in July 2008 and a crowd of 200,000 fans gave him a rock star's welcome at the city's Victory Column. He was visibly moved to see so many in the German capital shouting, "Yes we can!"

This euphoria was topped during the election on Nov. 4. Millions of Germans joined in the party fever, making for the most exciting election night Germany had ever seen.

Barack Obama

His first priority is the United States

One visitor at an election party in Germany summed up the feeling: "If he accomplishes only half of the things he's promised, then that will be a giant step forward for the whole world -- and I'm extremely happy about that!"

Even German President Horst Koehler took a similar position, though he expressed it a bit more calmly.

"This is a great opportunity to fill the German-American relationship with more convincing content," said Koehler. "It's an opportunity for the United States of America, for Germany and for the whole world."

Stickling point Afghanistan

It won't be easy for the 44th American president to please the whole world. After all, not only does he not have any superpowers, he is also responsible first and foremost to his own countrymen, pointed out Bonn-based political scientist Christian Hacke.

Some of Obama's ideas don't align with those of the German government as well as many people think. There are considerable differences of opinion when it comes to the German military's participation in Afghanistan, for example.

The future US government has already said it wants more German soldiers in Hindu Kush, a position not shared by Berlin.

"Obama's advisors know that in an election year there won't be a majority in support of sending German troops to the South and they won't even demand it," said Karsten Voigt, Berlin's coordinator for German-American relations.

It remains to be seen whether Obama and his team really will, in fact, be so sensitive. The White House may be getting a new resident, but many key positions in Washington -- in the secret service, the military and the banking sector, for example -- aren't changing hands.

Obama's green soul

Cooperation on the environment appears somewhat less problematic. Obama didn't hide his ecological leanings during the campaign, which was cause for optimism among Germany's political party The Greens.

"President Obama will, above all, have to create new jobs and to do that he'll need a sector with gigantic growth potential," said Greens faction leader Fritz Kuhn.

Ford factory

Germany is concerned that a US auto bailout would hurt competition

"That is ecological modernization," he added. "As far as energy policy goes, the US is so far behind that he can and will be able to create millions of jobs."

Car competition warning

The labor market is hurting in particular due to jobs lost in the auto industry. Unlike their German competitors, the large US carmakers have depended on heavily polluting gas-guzzlers for far too long.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed concern that struggles in the auto branch could lead to tension in German-American relations. She said she would have some "very serious conversations" with Obama, should German carmakers be competitively disadvantaged through US bailout efforts.

Despite a few bumps along the way, German-American ties have always been harmonious and reconciliatory. As Christian Hacke put it, the only real problems will arise if Germany starts placing unreasonable expectations on the new president.

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