Angela Merkel's Foreign Policy

By Muller-Harlin, Bernhard | Contemporary Review, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Angela Merkel's Foreign Policy


Muller-Harlin, Bernhard, Contemporary Review


ON 4 May 2006, Angela Merkel delivered an official speech to 1,500 guests at the centenary dinner of the American Jewish Committee in Washington. She was introduced by George W. Bush who, having fulfilled his official duty, not only stayed and took a seat on stage, but also allowed the German Chancellor to use his speaker's desk with the Presidential emblem--a rarely afforded privilege and a sign of high esteem for a chancellor who had been in office for less than a year. [1]

Since Gerhard Schroder left office in October 2005 and Angela Merkel became Chancellor, Germany's role on the international stage has changed substantially. Mrs Merkel has strengthened the transatlantic dimension while maintaining the relationships with Gerhard Schroder's 'buddies' Vladimir Putin and Jacques Chirac. After difficult times between Germany and the US caused by Schroder's objections to the invasion of Iraq, relations seem to be 'repaired'. That does not mean, though, that Germany has become an uncritical vassal of the US--Mrs Merkel has, for instance, requested repeatedly since January 2006 that the US close the prison at Guantanamo. Relations with Russia have not deteriorated but have become more sober: for Merkel, the Russian President is not a 'flawless democrat' and meetings between her and Putin are less cordial and intimate than the meetings with her predecessor were. In relation to France and Great-Britain, Germany has become slightly more self-contained. This has nothing to do with isolation. Rather, it seems, Germany is gaining weight, reputation and self-confidence on the international stage, mediating either between the US and Russia or between France and Britain. It is sending troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, frigates to the Lebanese coast and soon jet fighters to Afghanistan. On her last visit to Washington, Angela Merkel launched the initiative to revive the Quartet on the Middle East which was warmly welcomed by her American and French counterparts--the Quartet met on 2 February 2007, in Washington. Another sign of the high esteem Germany has attained is that, with regards to its double presidency of the EU and the G8, expectations have risen to an unusual extent. In search of an explanation for this shift of Germany's foreign policy the key element is the international reputation Angela Merkel has gained within a very short time.

Angela Merkel's Reputation on the International Stage

The reasons for Angela Merkel's reputation are to be found on the one hand in her personality--her style, her origin and her generation--and on the other hand in the external conditions in German domestic policy, on the national and the international level.

Asked about her political motto, Merkel answers 'think, consult, decide' or 'step by step'. She does not consider her point of view to be unassailable and will force it through; she is not someone who can always offer prepared answers, but rather a patient observer assessing the advantages and disadvantages of different opinions and positions. That is why during discussions her argumentation often confuses her partners who, at the end, do not know any more what she is for and what she opposes. [2] Not gifted rhetorically, she is essentially a pragmatist who accepts the available circumstances in her search for a problem's solution. Angela Merkel does not put herself in the limelight as her predecessor and thus does not embody the power she bears--a property which is often interpreted as a lack of leadership and charisma and which is the reason her adversaries tend to underestimate her. Those who accuse her of trying to please everybody should bear in mind that it is difficult to corrupt her honesty. During confidential meetings, she treats her partners with openness, talking much about herself and thus finding out a lot about the other.

Whereas this quiet way of going about politics is sometimes a disadvantage in domestic policy, it works very efficiently in foreign policy where negotiating as much as possible is the only way to succeed.

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