A year in review: Germany and Angela Merkel

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In 2007, German Chancellor Angela Merkel focused on foreign policy while neglecting domestic front

Chancellor Angela Merkel can look back on 12 months of success on the international stage with her brand of understated diplomacy.

The year began with a trip to Washington to cement the renewed alliance with the United States -- and ended with another trip across the Atlantic to visit President George W. Bush at his Crawford home in Texas.

In between, the chancellor travelled to destinations as diverse as Ilulissat and Mazar-e Sharif, the first to see the effects of global warming in Greenland and the second to visit German troops stationed in Afghanistan.

There were more conventional stops. The chancellor took in Beirut, Jerusalem and Dubai, reflecting Germany's aim of playing a larger role in the Middle East peace process.

Cape Town, Monrovia and Addis Ababa were stations reflecting Merkel's personal commitment to alleviating hardship in Africa.

Tense encounters took place with the Poles in Warsaw and with the Russians in Sochi and Samara.

Routine trips

The regular trips to Western European capitals during Germany's presidency of the European Union in the first half of the year were routine by comparison.

The cartoon in Berlin's Tagesspiegel said it all: Bush, reclining in an armchair on his Crawford ranch asks Merkel, "Well then, how was your trip to Germany?"

The EU presidency and Germany's year-long presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8) provided plenty of opportunity for Merkel to display her diplomatic skills.

A recalcitrant Polish President Lech Kaczynski succumbed to her charms at the June EU summit in Brussels and did not torpedo her plans to revive the moribund European constitution.

And Bush struck a conciliatory note on climate protection at the G-8 summit she hosted in Heiligendamm, also in June.

Angry response

Merkel's "private" invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit the Berlin chancellery in September drew plaudits from human rights activists and the wider German public but an angry response from Beijing, which cancelled several high-level meetings.

Others were less impressed. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused his boss of "showcase foreign policy." Progress with Beijing on human rights issues required a longer view.

Merkel's predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, went even further, apologizing during a November visit to Beijing for the "injury to Chinese feelings" and calling Merkel's invitation to the Tibetan leader a "mistake."

Both also criticized Merkel's coolness towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, noting that Germany draws around a third of its crude oil and gas needs from its powerful eastern neighbour.

The negative comments could be seen as political point-scoring. Merkel is a Christian Democrat (CDU), whereas Schroeder and Steinmeier are Social Democrats (SPD), but there were other critical voices.

"She has presented no foreign policy initiatives of her own, no bold plans," the newspaper Berliner Zeitung said as the year drew to a close.

On the back burner

And political commentators were agreed that domestic policies were on the back burner.

The Christian Democrat chancellor was "sitting out" the term of her unwieldy coalition, hoping her conservative alliance would gain sufficient votes in the 2009 elections to do without the SPD, political adviser Michael Spreng said.

A cartoonist showed Merkel with her nose in the air saying, "I'm not getting involved."
So far, that approach has paid off. Merkel's CDU/CSU would win 40 per cent in a federal election, according to a recent poll, while the SPD would score just 30. Those numbers would allow Merkel to form a centre-right coalition with the liberal FDP.

But election day is a long way off. The economic outlook grows less favourable by the day, and the SPD has begun to position itself firmly on the left of the political spectrum to take advantage of rising popular uncertainty.

30 December 2007

Copyright DPA with Expatica

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