Berlin has a new US ambassador: attorney and banker John B. Emerson is a political appointee with strong personal ties to Germany. Expectations are high on both sides of the Atlantic.
For John B. Emerson and his wife Kimberly, the Berlin appointment is a return to their German roots. Their heritage is German through his paternal and her maternal grandparents. He began to study German at age 12, Emerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, adding that "may have had more to do with the fact that my father and grandmother would speak it when they didn't want me to know what they were discussing. "
A man of many talents
The 59-year-old has repeatedly proven that he is determined and success-oriented. He studied law, philosophy and administration. After graduating law school, he first practiced at a law firm in the 1980s, and later served as prosecutor at the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. From 1993 to 1997, Emerson served as advisor on trade issues to President Bill Clinton, as well as presidential liaison officer to the state governors.
President Obama also profits from Emerson's business expertise: in 2010, the president appointed Emerson, who had been head of the Capital Private Client Services investment management firm since 1997, to the Trade Advisory Council.
Reward for donations?
Critics accuse the Obama administration of rewarding particularly diligent election fundraisers with ambassadorial posts. According to the New York Times, business executive and new US Ambassador to Britain Matthew Barzun raised 2.3 million dollars (1.7 million euros) for Obama's re-election campaign. At an estimated 1.5 million dollars, Emerson‘s contribution was also quite considerable.
Christian Hacke does not share the critics' view, however. "The President traditionally reserves the right to appoint deserving individuals as Ambassadors – there is no reason to perceive this in a completely negative light," the political scientist and former professor at the University of Bonn told DW.
Emerson's predecessor in Berlin, former investment banker Phil Murphy, showed that "a man from the outside can fill such a posting in a highly professional manner, with a lot of charm, great knowledge and a great deal of diplomatic tact," Hacke said.
Accordingly, expectations in Berlin are high. The new Ambassador takes office at a time of turmoil in German-US relations in the wake of the NSA revelations. For quite some time now, Berlin has not been among Washington's closest allies, and the surveillance scandal has noticeably cooled relations.
Christian Hacke expects the new Ambassador to launch a charm offensive – which he should not find difficult. "In general, American diplomats are more charming and professionally diplomatic than most of their German counterparts," Hacke said, adding Emerson will now do his best to try to smooth ruffled feathers.
Political leaders in Berlin will be pleased to learn that the new Ambassador describes the US-German transatlantic relationship in much the way President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry did during their recent visit to Berlin: "Our alliance is the foundation of global security. Our trade and our commerce is the engine of our global economy." At the same time, relations are increasingly shifting on a political and economic level as countries such as China and Russia, and even Brazil and India, play a larger role on the US agenda.
Emerson said he plans to enable access to the German market for US firms that use environmentally friendly technologies and help stabilize the euro zone. A strong German and European market, the Ambassador-designate said, opens jobs to Americans, too.
Involved in cultural life
He may be an attorney and economic expert, but John Emerson is also involved in numerous charitable organizations, as is his wife Kimberly. The Californian is volunteer head of the Los Angeles Music Center, which is home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the LA Opera.
"In my business life, in my non-profit and civic involvements, and during my previous years of government service, I have learned the importance of developing meaningful, long-lasting personal relationships," Emerson said upon arrival in Berlin last week.
It is a hopeful start, perhaps even a step toward relaxing tensions in German-US relations. The fact that Germany's capital Berlin and his home base Los Angeles are partner cities may further ease the new Ambassador's transition.