- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Germany’s new Chancellor Angela Merkel, due for a warm welcome in the Bush White House tomorrow, represents a new political phenomenon in her country.

Her government embraces her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) with their Bavarian allies in the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democrats, the first time such lineup in 37 years. It is quite unlike its predecessor, the Red/Green coalition of 1998-2005, in which the ranks were filled with “sixty-eighters,”offspring of the 1968 anti-Vietnam War and anti-establishment student revolt, in whose new-leftist hearts dislike and distrust of America lingered.

Germany’s relations with Washington have nearly always been better with CDU-run governments. During the Cold War, the CDU governments of the Federal Republic were particularly close to America, since they depended completely on U.S. military protection against the Soviet Union. Mrs. Merkel will cleave to that tradition but with a careful weighing of German interests. American security guarantees can be dispensed with; and the European Union (EU) has since the 1990s become a much more important economic and political factor for Berlin than it was during the Cold War.

Mrs. Merkel herself is new in many and varied ways: She is not only the first woman chancellor but the first ever in all German history to wield real political power. A trained physicist, she is the first natural scientist at the head of government and brings new analytical skills to the job. Perhaps most important both for her aptitude for reform policies and her attitude toward America, she is the first chancellor from the eastern part of Germany, the former communist area, to reach the very top in any field since Germany was reunified in 1990.

Mrs. Merkel is unpretentious, cautious and lacks charisma. She can come across as a cool customer. Her training as a physicist leads her to approach politics analytically. She is very pragmatic, examines empirical data carefully, masters her officials’ briefs in detail, and reaches her conclusions based on carefully a reasoned, deliberate assessment of where she wants to come out and how to get there.

Her liking for expertise is reflected in her Cabinet: It includes more nonparliamentarians than any since World War II. Technocratic types are prominent. A Protestant (her father was a Lutheran pastor) from the northern part of East Germany, she is less ideological than other leaders of the CDU, which remains largely as it was before reunification a Catholic, conservative but social-welfarist, good old boys club strongest in the Rhineland and the south of the country.

She has one great psychological advantage advancing her government’s top domestic priority, drastic reform of Germany’s stagnant economy. Her willingness to effect change stems from her East German background. Like everyone coming from the communist East, after reunification she suddenly had to develop an aptitude for adjusting to huge economic and political transformation of every aspect of life and society.

Her East German origins account too for her positive attitude toward America. Unlike those in the predecessor government, she is no “sixty-eighter.” There was no ‘68 student revolt in communist East Germany. Soviet domination there led her, like many in Eastern Europe, to dislike and distrust Russia and regard the U.S. as the exponent of freedom. Mrs. Merkel seems ready to devote more attention to the smaller EU countries of the East, all once Soviet satellites, most notably Poland.

Virtually alone among German leaders two years ago, she backed the Iraq war. Her government has set itself the goal of repairing relations with Washington, badly damaged under the government of Gerhard Schroeder.

Freedom and free-market solutions abounded in her campaign speeches last summer. Small wonder the Bush administration will welcome her.

While the administration cannot expect Mrs. Merkel to send German soldiers to Iraq — her voters remain overwhelmingly opposed to that — the chancellor will likely pledge more help training Iraqi police and with reconstruction.

After a very close election, Mrs. Merkel has rallied strongly. Her popularity has reached 50 percent levels, where it was when the campaign began last July. She won plaudits throughout Europe for her competence in budget negotiations at a EU summit last month. And most important for her government, Germany’s economic indicators at last point upward. So the chancellor is off to a good start.

The Bush administration can use friends like Mrs. Merkel in Europe. It should listen carefully to the first woman to become a major player on the German political scene, who has already displayed the potential to do likewise on the European scene.

Robert Gerald Livingston is a senior visiting fellow at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C.

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