- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

As the Germany election result finally comes into focus, policymakers this side of the Atlantic could well assume Miss Merkel’s ascendance will mean warmer U.S.-German relations. Yet this is premature expectation, and one that could produce apathy toward the trans-Atlantic relationship that would only help harden the underlying anti-Americanism in Europe in general and Germany in particular.

Since outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder called for early elections after his party was trounced in regional elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, the campaign was defined by the two contenders’ differing economic reform agendas. Foreign policy did not have a very visible role, except for different views on Turkey’s connection with the European Union (Miss Merkel favored a “privileged partnership,” while Mr. Schroeder was a big supporter of full membership), and the U.S. (Mr. Schroeder remained aggressively anti-; Miss Merkel adopted a sunnier outlook).

Ultimately, the divergent policies toward the United States are not really so surprising. The German Marshall Fund’s Trans-Atlantic Trends 2005 indicated that 54 percent of the political right/center right feel U.S.-EU relations should become closer or remain the same but only 29 percent of the left agree. So Mr. Schroeder’s anti-American feeling really reflects his core constituency, and the same is true of Miss Merkel’s stance.

More disturbing for trans-Atlantic relations is that Angela Merkel avoided the issue of U.S.-EU relations so completely during her campaign. This was partly because the election was clearly defined by domestic economic factors rather than foreign affairs. Germans sought a chancellor to address their institutionalized unemployment rate of about 12 percent (which was why Miss Merkel beat Mr. Schroeder) yet maintain the welfare state protective net (which was why she could not win a clear-cut, major victory).

There is a danger the economic preoccupation was not the only reason she avoided the trans-Atlantic issue. There are fissures in her foreign policy outlook that will inevitably produce confrontation with the United States.

Angela Merkel made no pretense of welcoming Turkish accession to the European Union, and has long preferred to speak of a “privileged partnership” with Turkey. This position contrasts starkly with America’s desire to see Turkey become a full-fledged EU member and provide as a bridge between the Muslim and Christian civilizations.

The Turkish problem will conflict not only with the United States but also with the America’s main European ally, the United Kingdom. This dispute risks spilling over into other parts of Anglo-German relations, something Miss Merkel could especially slip into given her desire to maintain strong Franco-German relations and the evident strong German attachment to the anti-British “social Europe.”

This may sound very catastrophic, but a Merkel leadership is unlikely to focus on foreign policy if she can avoid it. The key difference is she is unlikely to relish the conflict as did Mr. Schroeder when divergences do occur. She is likelier to turn a smiling face toward the United States, and will inevitably be friendly to a European Commission president she helped elect.

Still, these gracious overtures are unlikely to generate much substance. Miss Merkel will spend her energies making the German economy work again.

The United States will increasingly find its European counterparts focused more internally. Unless a foreign policy issue is within their sphere of influence, involves a key trading partner, or is perceived in Europe as part of the war against fundamentalist terrorism, it is unlikely to attract much interest in the capitals. Europeans will focus much more on spending money and energy to get their economies working and more competitive in globalized trade.

As a result, United States must reach out to European peoples to improve trans-Atlantic relations.

Broadly, European publics increasingly find themselves questioning the tangible benefits of supporting the U.S., which they feel brings the threat of terrorist attacks without the benefit of free visa access or financial aid.

If the United States is genuinely interested in better trans-Atlantic relations, it must take the initiative. Waiting for electoral cycles to produce friendlier leaders will not produce the desired result and will merely permit the rift to harden.

Raffaello Pantucci is executive and research assistant of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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