A new beginning for US-German ties?

3rd November 2004, Comments 0 comments

US voters have returned George W. Bush for another four years in the White House. But in light of the tensions between Berlin and Washington over the last four years, Andrew McCathie looks at what a Bush victory might mean for Germany.

Presidential poll turns into cliff-hanger

With George W. Bush having secured a second term in office, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has led members of his Social Democrat-led government in emphasising Berlin and Washington's good working relationship.

Following Bush's return to the White House, Schroeder congratulated the president on his win and expressed "great expectations" for renewed cooperation bewteen Germany and the US after the two leaders had worked over the last 12 months to try to lay aside tensions caused by Berlin's fierce opposition to the Iraq war.

"The world stands before great challenges at the beginning of your second term: international terrorism, the danger of weapons of mass destruction, regional crises - but also poverty, climate change and epidemics threaten our security and stability," Schroeder wrote.

"These challenges can only be mastered together," the Chancellor told Bush with Karsten Voigt, Berlin's co-ordinator for German-American relations, going further and calling for a new beginning in Berlin-Washington relations

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer also stressed the close cooperation between the United States and Europe's biggest economy in the wake of the Bush victory.

"I have said that we will continue to cooperate positively," Fischer said. "In international politics, we face difficult challenges that cannot be mastered without close cooperation between Europe - including our country - and the United States."

Germany's  Minister of the Interior, Otto Schily, went onto insist that Berlin would do what it could to help ease the current tensions in Iraq.

"Despite the issue of our differing positions in the past, we all have to contribute to ensuring that the situation in Iraq stabilises," Schily told German television. However, only last month Schroeder insisted that Germany would not send troops to Iraq.

Berlin's opposition to the war in Iraq plunged its alliance with Washington into a major crisis, with Germany teaming up with France and Russia to form an anti-war axis.

*quote1*Since then, however, both Bush and Schroeder have worked to patch up the differences between Berlin and Washington, although analysts say that frictions still remain.

This is widespread expectations in Europe that compared to the last four years, Bush may seek to be more consensual and to seek out his European allies for greater consultation during his second term. At least the tone and language of the White House is expected change.

An early test of this is likely to be over how to deal with the nuclear programs being pieced together by North Korea and Iran as well as United Nations' moves to sanction Teheran over its nuclear plans with German officials having already called for greater cooperation on Iran.

"In Iran there is clearly a need to work together," said Voigt, Berlin's US-German  relations coordinator. "The Europeans - the British, French and Germans - are seeking a peaceful solution.

"But the goal is to prevent, together with the Americans, Iran gaining access to nuclear weapons," he said. "Let us hope and work together to ensure that the cooperative solution the Europeans are working on will be successful."

That said, however, Germany and Europe appear at times to be moving in different directions to the US with a sometimes conflicting sense of identity and set of values emerging on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Continental Europe now has its own currency and the war in Iraq has helped to renew the Franco-German alliance, which has been the driving force behind European integration.

In addition, the build-up to the US presidential election was accompanied by moves in Europe towards forging its own constitution.

What is more social questions and values are increasingly underscoring the differences between Europe and a Bush-led America with Bush and his campaign team having successfully identified and played to what appear to be America's core and essentially conservative values. 

Indeed, while the final days of the battle over the White House were unfolding, a conservative Catholic Italian politician was forced to bow out of plans to give him the justice portfolio in the new European Commission because his views on women and gays were considered to jar with the more liberal atmosphere prevailing in modern Europe.

Moreover, while Bush has opposed so-called gay marriage and several US states voted down gay marriage proposals in separate referendums Tuesday, a growing number of European states, including Germany, have taken steps to bring gay relationships into line with hetrosexual relationships.    

Further marking out the differences between the US and Europe are the views of Bush as president. As has been the case in America, passions in Germany about the presidential election  ran high.

And like many other European nations, there was also deep opposition among Germans to Bush, with opinion polls showing more than 70 percent of Germany's population in favour of a change in the White House.

There is a real danger for the US that the intense opposition to Bush in Europe could broaden into a heartfelt European anti-Americanism. 

Another core issue could also deepen the divide between Europe and America - economics.

Considering the role in the US election campaign played by the big loss of jobs in America in recent years, some commentators are predicting that trade protection could cast a new shadow over Washington's relations with Europe in the coming four years, whoever wins the White House. 

Already tensions over trade have become part of the everyday life of the transatlantic alliance. 

Echoing Voigt's comments on the need for a new start in Berlin-US relations, Volker Ruehe, the chairman of German Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed the hope that the election outcome in the US would set the stage for an improvement in the ties between Washington and Europe.
Ruehe told German Radio that there needed to be better dialogue between the US and Europe.

But comments made by the deputy chairman of the German Parliament's Foreign Affairs committee, Hans-Ulrich Klose, had highlighed concerns in the German political elite that a erry victory could have presented Berlin with real difficulties.

*quote2*This reflects the concern in Berlin's ruling political elite that a Kerry White House might call on Germany as well as France to help share the military burden in Iraq and to dispatch troops to the Gulf.

A crucial issue for the Germans following the US election will be Berlin's ambitions for a seat in the UN Security Council.

While a Bush White House might be reluctant to support Germany in its campaign for a seat given its opposition to the war in Iraq, commentators say a Kerry administration might have been more open to the proposition.

Eitherway, this could result in some horse trading, possibly over Iraq or even trade. 

But despite all the talk of a new start in US-German ties, Bush's unpopularity in Germany and the support shown for the Bush White House by Germany's conseravtive opposition is likely to make the re-elected president a convenient political target Schroeder's Social Democrats and their Green Party coalition partners.    

November 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject:  German news

0 Comments To This Article