incredible Ms. Merkel:
How will Germany's first femail chancellor fare as Bush's
new mystery date?
new era is beginning in Europe right now, and with Angela
Merkel as chancellor, all eyes are turned towards Germany.
After the European constitution was voted down last year
and following the recent accumulation of problems in many
individual states, Europeans are realizing adjustments
are needed. Ms. Merkel is the first new state leader to
have to face these latest problems head on.
Merkel's actions will hold consequences for all of Europe
while her performance will serve as a guide for surrounding
countries seeking similar action. Moreover, in a world
more globalized than ever, Merkel will have to uphold
some delicate and essential relationships, maintaining
a history with France and redeveloping a future with the
A key part of Merkel’s agenda will be her ability
to deal with her neighbors. With so much attention focused
on the future of the European Union she will have to be
careful with her relationships, most notably with France.
The Franco-German link is historically noteworthy as it
was these two countries that pushed for European solidarity
after the Second World War. The relationship has been
important ever since and while Merkel’s predecessor,
Gerhard Schröder, enjoyed a rather amiable relationship
with French president Jacques Chirac, whether this rapport
will continue as before remains to be seen.
Yet, it is not insignificant that Ms. Merkel’s first
stop on her tour following her accession was in Paris
where she recognized that “a good German-French
relationship, a friendly, a deep relationship, is not
only important for our two countries but also necessary
and desirable for Europe.” ‘’The relationship
must be maintained, must continue to be developed and
always be filled with life,’’ she promised.
Chirac agreed, “Europe, if it is to work properly,
must have a strong Franco-German axis. Experience proves
it: If we don’t get along, then the system is blocked.”
And right now these countries have more in common than
just hopes for the future of Europe. Both states’
economies are struggling, unemployment is unusually high
and politicians and citizens alike are demanding reform.
France has already begun to take action. Earlier this
year Prime Minister Dominique Villepin initiated a first
set of reforms designed to make hiring and firing easier,
hoping to increase employment. Other initiatives on the
way will, if passed, make France’s economy more
open. The French have so far largely resisted the path
to globalization but with the economy so stressed it is
evident that a little change could go a long way.
The Germans, for their part, have introduced a mild set
of reforms, dubbed Agenda 2010, set into action by former
Chancellor Schröder. Merkel has already promised
to continue modifications and will begin by increasing
the VAT tax and changing the employment laws.
But it is what is to come that will be most interesting.
Dominique Villepin and France’s Interior Minister
Nicolas Sarkozy are in a race for the 2007 election and
both are promising changes. Their actions following the
recent riots exposed their desire and willingness to campaign
hard. Merkel has already openly indicated her preference
for Sarkozy who, at least until recently, was expected
to win hands down. The two share similar styles and have
similar plans for their respective countries as well as
for Europe. Sarkozy, like Merkel, is hesitant to allow
Turkey to join the EU and both would like to continue
the Franco-German relationship but not at the expense
of a stronger and more unified Europe.
In more recent weeks Merkel has met with both political
showoffs, proving her promise of a desire of continuing
relations. The other side of the coin is of course with
the United States. These days it’s no easy task
for foreign leaders to deal with President Bush (as Merkel’s
predecessor illustrated) but so long as America continues
its super power status some form of association is fundamental.
Ms. Merkel is well aware of this and has stated numerous
times she will not promote a Europe vs. US mentality.
In preferring to work alongside America she is perhaps
more open than some of her European colleagues (though
relations are starting to warm up).
Last month Merkel made her first visit to Washington meeting
with Bush to discuss a number of pressing topics, the
first being the growing concern with Iran’s nuclear
threat. Both leaders agreed the threat was serious and
warranted immediate attention. The EU and the US have
both been pushing for action and would like UN intervention.
However all is not as rosy as it seems. Bush continued
his hard line defence of the CIA’s secret prisons
in Europe and of the questionable practices at the Guantanamo
camp. Merkel will have to work hard to look past these
discretions but for now as long as the two countries work
together on the Iran issue it seems a new future could
be in the midst.
This new future could include a trio of like-minded leaders
in the next few years. Both France and the United States
are headed towards eagerly anticipated elections, France
with the afore-mentioned Villepin/Sarkozy possibility
and the US with a strong likelihood of having its first
female president. For now, attitudes are warming but in
several years the relationships could be heating up to
a very opportunistic revival.