Dr. Merkel appears to be a good leader. Really good government platform. The Germans are lucky in having such a leader. I would surely vote for her party (Christian Democratic Union) if I was living in Germany.
Sat Nov 12, 2005 11:15 AM ET
By James Mackenzie
BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's new government does not promise any dramatic shifts in foreign policy, but its coalition agreement shows it sees the need for special care in relations with the United States after the turmoil caused by the Iraq war.
The bipartisan coalition deal presented by conservative chancellor-designate Angela Merkel on Saturday emphasized the government's desire to keep Germany anchored in strong relations with its European and U.S. partners.
But as well as the traditional pledges to the importance of a strong transatlantic partnership, the accord said the government would "seek an improved public understanding of the USA in Germany and of Europe and Germany in the USA".
For most of the past two years, Germany and the United States have sought to smooth over the hostility sparked by outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's vocal opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
But the scars left by the conflict remain and many Germans and other Europeans are skeptical about the U.S. role in international affairs and hostile to President George W. Bush.
According to a recent survey by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, 72 percent of Europeans disapprove of Bush's foreign policies and more than half said strong U.S. leadership in world affairs was undesirable.
During the election campaign, Merkel attacked Schroeder for downgrading relations with Washington and for being too close to French President Jacques Chirac and Russia's Vladimir Putin, while he suggested she would have led Germany into the Iraq war.
But the inconclusive September 18 election, which forced Merkel's conservatives and Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) into a "grand coalition" government, has prompted the two sides to reconcile differences highlighted by the campaign.
PERSONAL TONE CRUCIAL
With widespread agreement on formal policy issues, much will depend on the personal tone and priorities of Merkel and her new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who worked closely with Schroeder as head of his Chancellery.
Steinmeier, 49, is a less charismatic figure than his high-profile predecessor, Joschka Fischer, but is an experienced and well-respected official who has said the new government will seek continuity in foreign policy.
The coalition accord indicates the new government wants close ties with France, Russia and the United States, will continue to take part in international peacekeeping and still wants a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, all policies endorsed by Schroeder.
It says cooperation with Washington is important for stability in areas such as the Middle East and the Balkans and for good relations between the Islamic world and the west.
"We want to shape transatlantic relations with an eye to the future, without forgetting our common history," the accord says.
In the European Union, the new government backs Schroeder's push to limit German contributions to the EU budget and to overhaul EU spending, although it says a landmark October 2002 agreement fixing agricultural subsidy levels should stand.
The differences between conservatives and the SPD over Turkey's drive to join the EU have been set aside as the issue will not have to be settled during the next four years.
But the future expansion of the 25-member bloc was one of the most emotionally charged foreign policy issues in the election campaign and will be an area where the new government will have to continue to tread particularly carefully.