If Germany switches sides
How much would German
foreign policy change if conservatives lead the government?
By Paola Álvarez
Services of Agencia de Información Solidaria (AIS)
The future of
Germany looms uncertain. In the wake of the unexpected results of the general
elections of Sept. 18, the government's options are increasingly fewer and it
seems that the big coalition of CDU conservatives and SPD democrats has every
chance to win.*
Whether such a
government can (or cannot) solve the problems of a country mired in its own
system and overwhelmed by
exigencies remains to be seen. But that's not all.
The outcome of the
elections in Germany
affects more than just that nation's citizens. The future of
and the international alliances will be different, depending on which political
force assumes power or who grasps greater leadership within the much-debated
CDU leader Angela Merkel
has made it clear that she intends to enact her program as far as possible. In
foreign possible, that translates into a rapprochement with the United States, a
distancing from Russia, an opposition to Turkey's admission to the European
Union and a strengthening of the German-British axis, to the detriment of the
French-German unity as an engine for Europe.
It would mean a change
in position on all fronts, with whatever consequences that might bring,
particularly involving Germany's relations with its American friends.
When it comes to the
Two examples from the electoral campaign illustrate perfectly the relationship
the conservatives want to maintain with the U.S. The first involved Katrina.
Washington's unfortunate handling of the aftermath of the terrible hurricane
that struck New Orleans some weeks ago has been acknowledged even by President
However, when in a
televised debate between Merkel and social-democratic Chancellor Gerhard
Schröder both were asked to opine about the U.S. administration's performance,
Merkel did not dare to respond.
To the surprise of
moderators and audience, the Christian Democrat reprised a discussion about her
social reforms and avoided the question. Schröder then reproached her silence
and asked her if that would be the line followed by a German government under
her command. Merkel remained silent.
The second example
occurred during the informal gathering of NATO defense ministers held in Berlin,
Sept. 12-14. The principal topic of the meeting was the U.S. proposal to merge
ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], NATO's peace mission in
Afghanistan, with Lasting Freedom, Bush's crusade against Islamic terrorism in
German Defense Minister
Peter Struck opposed that idea strongly. France, Spain and other countries
joined him. German conservatives assailed Struck's position and made it clear
that they would correct it as soon as they gained power.
There is no need to
explain what Germany's
weight would bring to such a decision, alongside Britain and the U.S. Nor is
there any need to explain the senselessness of NATO taking responsibility for
the United States' antiterrorist campaigns.
The social-democrats have not hesitated to utilize the German people's "anti-Americanism"
to round up votes. Schröder proclaimed himself "the peace chancellor" and in his
speeches guaranteed Germany's role as a key country in the quest for peaceful
solutions to international conflicts.
Neither Schröder nor the
charismatic Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer minced words when it came to
speaking clearly about the importance of Turkey's admission to the European
Union. Aside from the privileged relations that have linked both nations for
years because of their proximity and the number of Turkish immigrants that
Germany admits, Schröder reminded Merkel of the strategic value of "having
Turkey on our side."
sincere) was the chancellor's comment, while Fischer, always more proper, simply
recalled the argument that the E.U. cannot be a Christian club.
When it comes to Russia and France, it is not clear how far the CDU wishes to
grow apart. Two weeks before the elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin
visited Berlin to attend the signing of an accord between large Russian and
German companies that would bring about the construction of the great Baltic gas
The friendship between
Putin and Schröder is vox populi in Germany. The two leaders plan their
vacations together and it is said that Putin helped the chancellor adopt a
Russian-born girl as his daughter. Everyone interpreted the visit as a show of
support and, although Putin denied such an intent and met with Merkel in a
curious display of "not closing any doors," the press saw the visit as support
-- and so did the voters.
Chirac's ill health,
which has coincided with the campaign, has not permitted a similar analysis of
France's position in this regard.
On the other hand, the strongest blow received by the conservatives came from
those who claim to be their best friends in Europe. Against all predictions,
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the week before the elections that he
supported Schröder's candidacy.
Although Blair allowed
that their personal relations never were good, he had no problem praising the
chancellor's political work and pledging him his support on the eve of the
Broadly speaking, it seems the conservatives will not be well received by their
European colleagues. The ones who are sure to cheer if the chaos in Germany is
solved by a Chancellor Merkel would be the Americans, who are in need of an
unconditional ally in Europe.
For now, nothing has
been settled, although everything suggests that the leadership of the grand
coalition will be assumed by the CDU, with Merkel or without her. The option of
a shared chancellorship, two years in the hands of each candidate, could be more
beneficial to conservatives than they think, at least smoothing over any outward
In any case, a change in the orientation of Germany's foreign
policy seems inevitable. What is not known is to what degree. What is hoped is
that it should not be a total change of sides.
Paola Álvarez is a journalist.
NOTE: CDU stands for Christlich-Demokratische Union, or Christian Democratic
Union; SPD, for Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or Social Democratic
Party of Germany.]