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STRATFOR:::Germany: The Next Chancellor?
Germany is on the verge of a change in government, which will probably result in conservative leader Angela Merkel taking power. When that happens, German foreign policy will change dramatically.
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), likely could become Germany's next chancellor in snap elections scheduled for September. Such a development would dramatically change German policy. A Chancellor Merkel would represent a new pro-American direction not only for Germany, but for Europe as well. And with European politics currently in disarray, Merkel could be one of the only people in a position to take the reins, and her destination would be decidedly American.
Merkel grew up in former East Germany and had a history of pro-Western feeling so strong that the communist authorities barred her from teaching, her profession. As such, she became a member of Democratic Renewal, a pro-democracy group, in 1989. Merkel joined the CDU in 1990, two months before the reunification of Germany, and three months later became a surprise addition to Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Cabinet as minister for women and youth.
When the Kohl slush fund scandal broke in 1999, she was the first former-Kohl ally to publicly break with Kohl, and in April 2000, she ascended to party leadership. As a Protestant East German, Merkel is an anomaly in a party dominated by Roman Catholics and West German men.
After (reluctantly) standing aside in favor of Edmund Stoiber's candidacy in the 2002 elections, Merkel will now challenge German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. It is difficult to imagine a more contrasting pair. Schroeder is as pro-French, pro-state and pro-Russian as Merkel is pro-American, pro-free market and pro-NATO. About the only thing they do agree on is that the German economy is in the doldrums and needs a ra dical change to get it moving again. That has led Schroeder of late to propose policies that sound like the CDU manifesto.
In many ways, such half-hearted reforms have proven the worst of all worlds. The effort has not sufficed to jolt the German economy to life, yet has sufficed to trigger near-revolts in the Schroeder's own Social Democratic Party and broad disaffection throughout the broader population. Unemployment, which Schroeder vowed to reduce, has risen by 1 million to 5 million since he took office in 1998, gross domestic product growth has exceeded 1 percent just once in the last four years, and Germany's wealth distribution has become less -- not more -- equitable under Schroeder's leadership.
Considering the anger among voters accustomed to cradle-to-grave state assistance, Merkel has shied away from noting precisely what she would do differently. Instead, she has settled for broad promises of simplifying taxes, overhauling pensions, reducing job protection and curbing the trade unions. As she often sums it up, Europe has succeeded in linking "economic performance with social justice," but "we can't disregard the laws of the economy."
The real clashes between Schroeder and Merkel regard Germany's place in the world.
Schroeder was Germany's first truly independent chancellor since World War II. On his watch, the capital not only moved to Berlin, eliminating the last formal vestiges of the Cold War, but the post-World War II politics of apology ended. Germany finally became a "normal" country again.
As such, Schroeder had the greatest opportunities since the time of Adolf Hitler to strike out on a new path. Schroeder ultimately chose a path closely mirroring France's route, the path of seeking the establishment of a European superpower that Germany (and France) could use to punch above their weight in the international arena. Such a paradigm viewed U.S. hegemony as a direct threat -- and ther efore something to be undermined whenever possible. It also viewed Russia as a potential partner -- and therefore an entity to be brought into the inner circles of planning.
Merkel hates everything about that strategy.
At her core, Merkel is a Central European born and raised under Soviet occupation. As such she is a geopolitical -- if less extreme -- kinsman of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Merkel distrusts Moscow, distrusts policies that place trust in Moscow, and views U.S. policy during the Cold War as the primary reason why she now has a political career that does not involve singing the Communist International on a regular basis.
That perception colors -- if not outright dominates -- her feelings on a wide array of German foreign relations issues. As she herself has often noted, "they [Germans] don't realize that if we don't help America, America won't help us."
As an East German who directly attributes her freedom to U .S. policy, Merkel takes a pro-U.S. stance on most issues.
# While Schroeder worked at the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005 to end the EU arms embargo against China, Merkel opposes lifting it, primarily because she fears it would endanger trans-Atlantic cooperation.
# Whereas Schroeder has a relatively close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Merkel feels it is critical to press Moscow on democracy and human rights violations.
# Though Merkel opposed the Bush administration's unilateral approach on Iraq, she offered support for Bush's policies in Iraq before and during the war "in proportion to our means," and backed the core American assertion that terrorism and Saddam Hussein were intrinsically linked and that Europe should adopt the American perspective. Moreover, while Schroeder spent the majority of 2002 and 2003 repeating his categorical refusal to be drawn into Iraq, in February 2003 Merkel ventured to Washington, D.C., to me et with Vice President Dick Cheney. In a 2003 Security Conference in Munich, Germany, Merkel whispered to the U.S. delegation that, had she been in power, she would have signed a statement of solidarity with the United States over the Iraq war.
In her enthusiasm for the American position -- at least as relates to knocking down Schroeder's government a notch -- she has penned editorials in American papers attacking Schroeder's policies and praising those of U.S. President George W. Bush. Some of her more famous lines include: "Anyone who rejects military action as a last resort weakens the pressure that needs to be maintained on dictators and consequently makes a war not less but more likely," or "I know what it is when you don't have freedom."
Perhaps the sharpest break Germany would suffer under a Chancellor Merkel would be with France. Though she likes the idea of the European Union, she is more like British Prime Minister Tony Blair in wanting her country as part of Europe, but not run by Europe. And Berlin's direct relations with Paris are another matter entirely. In Merkel's own words: "Germany needs its friendship with France, but the benefits of that friendship can be realized only in close association with our old and new European partners, and within the trans-Atlantic alliance with the United States." This is a far cry from directly lobbying to constrain U.S. options at the U.N. Security Council.
But before one gets too enamored of the idea of a pro-American Germany, bear in mind the place makes the person. Merkel's personal history constitutes a leading factor explaining her Atlanticism. Once she becomes chancellor -- which she probably will -- she will be speaking for all of Germany, not just East Germany.
East Germany was an occupied corner of Europe seeking to escape Soviet domination. As such, East Germans view themselves as needing an external partner for protection.
Germany proper, however, has no need of protection as it occupies a rather benign security environment and boasts Europe's largest economy and population. Emerging from occupation, it is now attempting to carve out a niche for itself in a changing world.
A Chancellor Merkel will face harsh resistance from a country experiencing its own internal geopolitical split. It is not an entity that will reflexively seek to subordinate its political and security desires to dictation from an entity on the other side of the Atlantic -- no matter what the personal preferences of its leader.