TCS Daily

Friends Again?

By Joseph Tom Goeller - June 6, 2005 12:00 AM

BERLIN -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wants to set general elections in September, one year earlier than scheduled. He hopes to gain support for his unpopular reforms of the German welfare system. However, as opinion polls reveal, the opposition has a very good chance of winning those elections and forming a new government. The main opposition party, the Christian Democrats (CDU), have nominated their leader Angela Merkel as challenger to Schröder.

Since Merkel will not be able to win a majority in the parliament on her own, she will depend on a junior partner, which most likely will be the classical liberal party FDP. Even though this small party won't gain more than 7 to 9 percent of the popular vote, the FDP will probably be able to name a foreign minister in the new government -- a status it enjoyed for nearly 30 years until 1998. That means it will again set the tone in German foreign politics, in many aspects a very different one from the past four years.

"We want to revitalize relations with Washington," Wolfgang Gerhardt, the chairman of the FDP parliamentary group and one of two possible foreign ministers in the next government, tells me. "In this respect I even see a leadership position for Germany within the European Union to improve again the relations of the Europeans as a whole with the US."

FDP leader Guido Westerwelle, another possible foreign minister, criticizes Schroeder for "building a Paris/Berlin axis, perhaps extended even to Moscow. Such an axis is neither in the interest of Europe nor of Germany. It obviously was a plan of the German leftists to cut the transatlantic ties in favor of building a European counterbalance to the US. We are convinced that this is a mistake. European integration will not work against the transatlantic partnership but together with it, since we share the same values."

The FDP has recently become very critical of the blind eye Schröder has turned on Russian President Vladimir Putin. "It is not acceptable that the German government is often very critical of Washington, sometimes rightfully so, but stays silent on Russian violations of legal matters and unlawfulness," says Westerwelle. "For example, Mr. Schroeder had nothing to criticize about the verdict in the trial of Mikhail Kodorkovsky."

Both FDP politicians are concerned about the issue of democracy in Russia. Gerhardt says he is "worried about the autocratic style of Putin and the violation of human rights in Chechnya". Adds Westerwelle, when it comes to the rule of law and human rights "one cannot tolerate a code of silence in one case and criticism in another case."

As for the current German government's campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Westerwelle made clear that "the most prudent solution would be a European seat" instead of enlarging the body to include a third European country after France and Great Britain, who are both veto powers. However, it is most unlikely that France and Great Britain would give up their historical right in favor of a European seat.

Regarding the Middle East, Gerhardt sees several fields where a new German government could prove its new approach to the United States. "We don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons at its disposal," he says. Germany, which together with France and Great Britain is negotiating with the Islamic republic on suspending its uranium enrichment program, "should make this clearer to Teheran. I am convinced that the current German government is not active enough in this field."

Gerhardt also wants to become significantly more engaged with German aid and support. With the Gaza Strip as well as with Iraq, he underscores, his party would be ready "to increase substantially the support for civil reconstruction and also to lobby for aid and support within the EU." However, both aspirants equally expressed that they would not send German troops to Iraq. Both say the German military already is significantly engaged in missions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. All in all about 10,000 German troops are stationed abroad.

And as for the recent rejection of the European constitutional treaty by French voters, Gerhardt is relaxed. "In Europe we are used to giving everyone a second chance," he says. "If the EU wants to become a global player it won't be possible without the French."


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