Opinion: Merkel Debuts Abroad with Aplomb | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 25.11.2005
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Opinion: Merkel Debuts Abroad with Aplomb

Angela Merkel was sworn in as Germany's first female chancellor on Tuesday, and wasted no time setting off on a whistle-stop tour of Europe. DW's Felix Steiner looks back at her first few days in office.


It started with a kiss

A new head of state's first trip abroad is generally just a matter of protocol, leaving observers at pains to read any great significance into the choice of destination and host.

But seven years ago, the freshly-minted Chancellor Gerhard Schröder broke with time-honored tradition when he made for London rather than Paris, where German chancellors have always gone first after their election.

Those were the heady days of the much-touted "Third Way" -- the political vision shared by Schröder and Tony Blair which started out so well and ended so badly.

Blair trifft Schröder, Berlin 2004

Not the beginning of a beautiful friendship

By the time Schröder left government, Europe's political landscape had seen a major sea-change. As he and French President Jacques Chirac became increasingly close allies in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, relations between Schröder and Blair became increasingly hostile. The cosy Anglo-German chats that were a staple of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government became a distant memory.

Less European, more trans-atlantic

Against this backdrop, Angela Merkel's decision to revert to form and make Paris her first official outing abroad was a shrewd one.

Much to the chagrin of the rest of Europe, France and Germany have enjoyed a special relationship ever since they signed the Elysee treaty in 1963 -- but with Chirac, Merkel went out of her way to stress that their relationship shouldn't mean they cold-shouldered other member states who've made no secret in recent years of the fact they feel excluded.

Her point made, she turned on her heels and headed for her next port of call, Brussels.

Merkels Antrittsbesuch bei Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

Angela Merkel and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels

Her timetable in Brussels had its own symbolism. First, Merkel met with NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, where she spelt out that improving ties between the US and Germany was top of her list of priorities. Then she moved on to a meeting with EU Commission President Jose Barroso, reaffirming her new coalition government's intention to revive the much maligned EU Constitution, which has been on hold in recent months.

Scuppering the critics

In London a day later, she and Tony Blair discussed the EU budget row, a question Blair is eager to resolve before Britain hands over the EU's rotating presidency at the end of December.

Germany's position on the issue is a crucial one, and Blair is well aware of how much he needs Merkel to play a conciliatory role in its settlement. But the chancellor wasn't going to be drawn on the issue, simply making it clear that she had no intention of tolerating an outcome that would leave Germany shouldering the EU's financial burden -- as has so often happened in the last few decades.

It was a message she conveyed at every stop-over this week. But even so, in Paris, Brussels and London, Merkel came across like a leader who would rather avoid going her own way and making overly hasty decisions. She might be a novice, but she demonstrated respectable diplomatic finesse and all in all, made a decent debut appearance on the international stage.

Die CDU-Vorsitzende und designierte Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel laechlt am 12. November 2005 in Berlin

Is the best yet to come?

Her first three days in office have gone some way to scuppering her critics' claims she isn't up to the job. In fact, Merkel has already demonstrated that she has what it takes to be a formidable new force in European politics.

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