- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 3, 2007

June was a big month for Germany. When it opened, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was presiding over quarrelsome U.S. and Russian delegations at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm. When it ended, she was parenting fractious Europeans at the European Union summit in Brussels.

Both gatherings provided the world with an early glimpse of a new Germany — one that is not only the biggest and richest power in Europe, but knows it. So far, the arrival of this more outward-looking Germany has been good for Europe and for America. Whether it continues to be so depends partly on what the Germans do with their new opportunity and partly on what Washington does with it.

First, it bears mentioning just how much Berlin achieved during its six months in the EU cockpit. Coming into the presidency, Mrs. Merkel staked out an ambitious agenda that many analysts considered too tall an order, even for Germany. But she delivered. In trans-Atlantic relations, Mrs. Merkel surprised Washington by proposing a bold plan to loosen barriers on U.S.-EU trade and investment. In relations with Russia, she surprised Moscow by sticking up for the EU’s new member states at the EU-Russia summit in Samara. And on European integration, Mrs. Merkel surprised everybody by resuscitating an EU Treaty for which many an obituary has been written since its Franco-Dutch demise in the summer of 2005.

That so much was achieved so quickly is a reminder of what Europe’s biggest state can accomplish — when it really wants to. With a quarter of the EU’s wealth but only 8 percent of its decision-making power, Germany is a tethered giant. But unlike their Cold War predecessors, today’s German leaders are less shy about questioning the logic of this arrangement and seeking a bigger role in European — and global — affairs. Exactly what that role should look like is the subject of debate between two emerging camps.

One group — call it the “Adenauers” — wants to make a renewed link with America the centerpiece of Berlin’s new foreign policy, much as Konrad Adenauer did in the 1950s. A second group — call it the “Brandts” — wants to deepen ties with Russia as part of a revamped “Ostpolitik” strategy similar to the one used by Willy Brandt in the 1970s.

Washington has a big stake in which vision prevails. Few things would benefit America more than a powerful, globally engaged German ally that shares both U.S. interests and the burdens of global leadership. But where Washington needs the newly awakened Germany to devote its attention most is to an issue in its own backyard that Adenauers and the Brandts alike are neglecting: Berlin’s troubled relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

In the jigsaw of small states to Germany’s east, the sudden German interest in foreign affairs has reawakened old anxieties — and in Poland, outright hostility. In the period since the 2004 EU enlargement, an unhappy cycle has emerged: As Germany seeks a louder geopolitical voice, Poland looks for ways to offset its neighbor’s growing clout. Warsaw’s maneuverings strengthen the hand of those in Berlin who want to bypass Poland and deal directly with Russia, stoking further insecurity in Warsaw and restarting the cycle.

The end result is bad for the United States and bad for Europe. For six decades, the overarching goal of U.S. policy in Europe has been to enmesh the German state so tightly within the European project that, when it eventually awoke from its postwar slumber, it would be a team player — fully and inextricably invested in the structures of the West. That day has arrived.

Fortunately, the glue has hardened on Germany’s western flank. But to its east, the level of mistrust — and rhetoric — resembles that of the 1930s. Only when this has been removed will Washington be able to count on some semblance of Western unity vis-a-vis Russia and begin to have Germany’s — and Europe’s — undivided attention in the wider world.

What America needs most in Europe today is German-Polish reconciliation. The German Foreign Ministry is right when it says Berlin needs a new Ostpolitik, but wrong about which country it should focus on. Germany needs a deepening of ties, not with Russia, but with Poland. Think of it as “Ostpolitik Lite.”

Such an undertaking is long overdue and will require the same degree of seriousness an earlier generation of German leaders gave to reconciliation with France. Back then, the United States could midwife intra-European reconciliation. It should seek to do so again today.

The real initiative, of course, has to come from Berlin; it certainly won’t come from Warsaw. And though Mrs. Merkel has taken important steps in this direction, true rapprochement will require a generation’s worth of political will; difficult, emotionally charged negotiations and a stomach for slow movement under current Polish leadership.

In a word, it will require maturity. Welcome to great power status, Germany. When you’re finished tying up loose ends in Europe, there are some other places where we could use your help.

Wess Mitchell is director of research at the Center for European Policy Analysis.