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The World According to Merkel

Andreas Tzortzis, DW-WORLD.DE
July 12, 2005

What kind of Germany will the world get if Angel Merkel becomes chancellor? Most likely more of the same, say analysts.

Promising "closer consultation" with the US -- whatever that meansImage: dpa - Bildfunk

It came as no surprise that most of the 38-page party platform the CDU/CSU election platform presented the German people on Monday was dedicated to solving Germany's unemployment and economic problems.

But towards the end, pages 35 to 38, the conservative parties gave an idea of what sort of Germany the world would see were Angel Merkel to beat Gerhard Schröder in early elections likely to be held this coming September.

The result? Aside from a changed profile in the European Union and some vague promises of closer cooperation with the United States, not much.

Germany's transformation

"Ms. Merkel, like many opposition politicians, doesn't have much to say yet on the international stage," said Andreas Maurer, a political analyst at the German Center for International and Security Studies. "That is only something you can develop once you are in the government."

Nowhere was that more clear than in the transformation of Schröder. An unknown state governor with a skeptical attitude towards the EU when he became chancellor in 1998, Schröder's foreign policy was defined by a new self-confidence, evident in Germany's rejection of the US-led invasion of Iraq and its increasingly influential role in the European Union.

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder (r) unterhält sich am Sonntag (26.06.2005) im Flugzeug auf dem Weg nach Washington mit den mitreisenden Journalisten. Schröder-Besuch in Washington
Frequent flier Schröder has given German foreign policy a new self-confidenceImage: dpa

"No one could imagine when he was elected that he would be a foreign policy chancellor," said Karen Donfried, senior director of the German Marshall Fund in Washington D.C. "And no one in the CDU would want to shift (this self-confidence) back."

Drifting from the Franco-German axis

The theory appears to be backed up by the election platform. The Union parties seem to want Germany to retain an influential and decision-guiding role in the EU. But in calling for a reassessment of generous agricultural subsidies in the EU budget, Merkel is drifting more towards Great Britain than France, Schröder's great ally in recent years. Perhaps as an indicator of changing times ahead in the Franco-German relationship, the election platform mentions that it wants to "restructure it in a way that includes the trust of other EU partners and their interests."

Bildergalerie Gerhard Schröder 6
Chirac won't get many of these opportunities with MerkelImage: dpa

Further, EU expansion to include not only Turkey, but also Bulgaria and Romania, is another area in which Merkel will differ from Schröder, preferring to slam the brakes instead of pushing forward. Analysts are predicting that the proposed start of negotiations with Turkey in October -- already a divisive point to France, Sweden and the Netherlands -- will became a big campaign issue.

"She will tread this line of promoting a pro-European attitude while at the same time guarding against a larger, expanding Union," said Ingo Peters, a professor of political science at Berlin's Freie University.

A change in style, not substance

The stance could provide problems for Merkel's promise for "closer consultations" with Washington when deciding on international issues. President George W. Bush is a big proponent of Turkey's membership in the EU. Merkel and the Union parties are promising nothing more than a "privileged partnership."

Angela Merkel in der Türkei
Merkel in Istanbul last year. She angered the Turkish government with her proposal to grant Turkey a "privileged partnership" but not full membership in the EU.Image: AP

"The Americans must also be skeptical what awaits them," Maurer said. "Working closer together sounds nice, but it's something anyone can say. What will the Christian Democratic government say when the United States says, 'the negotiations with Turkey should go forth'?"

But Washington can be assured that in areas such as the recent French-German proposal to lift a weapons embargo on China, a Merkel government promises to side with the United States in their demands the embargo stay in place. And if not much else promises to change in substance, the style definitely will.

"Merkel's foreign policy will be, if one can wish for this, a lot more quiet," said Peters.

Interrelating problems

So will German initiatives abroad. No one expects a Merkel government to send German soldiers into Iraq, and the election platform released Monday also notes that Germany's promise to increase its international aid to 0.7 percent of its budget will be dependent on its economic recovery.

"The possibility of leading a more active foreign policy is somewhat limited ... because of finances," said Peters.

Something the Union, which devoted 34 pages of its election platform to the economy on Monday, seems acutely aware of.

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