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The German "Obama Girl" Adores Steinmeier

The election campaign in Germany was pretty boring, but it got a bit more interesting in recent weeks as the opinion polls show some movement. Merkel will most likely remain chancellor, but its open whether she will govern with the Liberal Democrats, or have to continue to work with the Social Democrats. The latter gained a few percentage points in the polls in recent weeks.

And now, a German "Obama girl" has appeared. She sings that she has a crush on German Foreign Minister Steinmeier ("Steini") from the Social Democrats. Will everything change now? Is Steinmeier going to become chancellor after all? Nah, I doubt it. It's just funny that pretty cheap versions of Obama type campaigning are appearing now in Germany.

For a bit more seriousness have a look at the The Obama Check by the TapMag blog ranking German politicians' Obamaness.

Related post on Atlantic Review: Germans Learned Nothing from Obama

German Elections: "Italian Conditions"?

The Economist discusses Germany's political fragmentation. Since quite a few German journalists like to dramatize socio-economic downturns by using the term “American conditions,” I thought I can have a bit of fun by talking about “Italian conditions” as a description of Germany political fragmentation, even though Italy has been much more stable recently. The Economist does not exaggerate that much, although it does claim: “With five parties in the Bundestag, the make-up of the next government could become a lottery.”  

GERMANY’S two big parties— the Volksparteien or “people’s parties”—have long been the pillars of an enviably stable political system. But they have lost ground over the years and, whoever wins the parliamentary election on September 27th, the outcome may be more fragmentation.

Between them, the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) captured 90% of the votes cast in national elections in the 1970s. In 2005 their combined vote fell below 70%, forcing them to govern together in a “grand coalition”. The latest polls say their share could sink to around 60% (see chart). “The Volksparteien are coming to an end,” says Peter Lösche, a political scientist. This worries many Germans.

And many other Germans don’t care at all. More and more Germans have lost interest in politics, certainly party politics.

Despite the “fragmentation” of the party system, there is very little excitement or “fear politics”, which I guess is a good thing. The current campaigns for the parliamentary elections on September 27th are very boring! The two leading political candidates – Steinmeier and Merkel -- are the exact opposites of Obama in terms of charisma, vision, emotional appeal, mobilization of supporters, inspiration of hope, reduction of cynicism and apathy etc.

In fact, I doubt whether the election campaigns even started. It’s that quiet. Maybe that’s also good. Politicians might get some work done, if they start campaigning six weeks rather than sixteen months before an election.

Obama's Wish List for Europe

"NATO's 60th anniversary summit in France and Germany in April, 2009 may well offer Europeans their first reality check on the 44th president," write Michael F. Harsch and Calin Trenkov-Wermuth in the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) feature on PostGlobal (via German Joys):

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier recently stated that he does not believe the Obama administration will make any unrealistic demands once it comes into office. Steinmeier is likely to be disappointed. The first item on Obama's wish list will most likely be greater European burden-sharing in Afghanistan. The danger of a NATO failure in Afghanistan is real, and this issue will dominate the NATO summit's agenda.

Second item on the wish list is Iran:

Before starting any negotiations, Obama will expect the Europeans to agree on more than just 'carrots' promising rewards if Iran should abolish its nuclear program. The new administration will also demand agreement on credible 'sticks' in case the Iranians are not ready to compromise. These could be simply tougher economic and political sanctions but Obama has also made it clear that he will not put the military option off the table.

Okay, those are the usual speculations about Obama's wish list. The third point on China was new to me. Harsch and Trenkov-Wermuth expect Obama to

urge Europeans to take a tougher stance on China, which is seen as undermining the West's efforts to put pressure on Iran. China has dramatically increased its economic ties with Iran, filling some of the gaps created by the departure of American and European companies. Recently, Iran announced that trade exchanges with China will exceed $25 billion this year, compared to $9.2 billion in 2005, and unless this trend is stopped or reversed, the threat of tougher economic sanctions will not have the desired impact.

Well, should not the US also take a tougher stance on China? Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU presidency, just got "tough" by announcing that he will have a chat with the Dalai Lama in Poland. This was enough for the Chinese to cancel a summit with the EU.

The US seems to be very dependent on China in the current financial crisis, so I am not sure if Obama will put pressure on the Chinese over the Iran's nuclear program.

Finally, the authors believe that US policy on Russia and Eastern Europe won't change much under Obama:

The US under President Obama will still call for a tougher stance and a more unified reaction from the European countries to Russian threats, especially from Germany, France and Italy. Obama will urge the big European powers to send a clear message to the central and eastern European NATO members that they are ready to defend them, and he will reaffirm the US commitment to the accession of Georgia and the Ukraine to NATO.

That's pretty stupid. In my humble opinion, journalists, think tankers and politicians should not use the phrase "tougher stance," which the authors used to describe policy advice for dealing with Iran and China. This phrase is so vague. It's meaningless. You want to be really tough, then boycott Chinese and Russian goods. Anybody ready to do that?

German NSC Sparks Controversy

This is a guest blog post by our long-time reader and commenter Pat Patterson:

The blog Coming Anarchy has a balanced piece concerning the recent proposal by Chancellor Merkel and the CDU to create a German National Security Council that argues, "It is for these reasons that a seemingly innocuous and in fact logical step like creating a national security council has again sparked debate among citizens and politicians alike." And that, "Over the past few years though with the changes in both the domestic and international security situation, debate has been ongoing about whether Germany needs a National Security Council based more on the American model for example."

Something similar was argued by the SPD in 1998 but very little in the way of change was made to the Bundessicherheitsrat (Federal Security Council) other than advising on the domestic state of affairs of the countries that were purchasing arms from Germany. But the current proposal goes much farther and states:

"In order to guarantee coherent and effective interagency work combining domestic and foreign security, a national security council is necessary as a center for political analysis."

But the immediate opposition came from the SPD's Frank Walter-Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister, mainly because the new proposal was similar to the US's National Security Council and thus, "This cannot be the model for us." (Deutsche Welle)

A longer description of the proposal and the introduction of the idea that this new body would also be not only carrying out the instructions of the Chancellory but advising on the ".national interests" of Germany. The International Herald Tribune also mentions that the creation of this body would essentially bypass the Foreign Ministry which obviously would weaken the SPD presence in the government. As well as a quote from Karl-Heinz Kamp of the NATO college,

The fact that the conservatives decided to do without their coalition partners,.is impressive because it would have been watered down. The basic idea is not bad at all.

Germany Seeks Multilateralization of Nuclear Fuel Cycle

The Federal Foreign Office announced today:

Germany is stepping up its efforts to establish an international uranium-enrichment plant under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Today, at IAEA's headquarters in Vienna, Federal Government representatives informed interested States about the details of the German proposals to multilateralize the nuclear fuel cycle, receiving a highly positive response. This concept is based on an initiative by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier. More and more countries are thinking of starting their own enrichment activities. Any joint solution must therefore take the desire for the peaceful use of nuclear energy into account, while at the same time making sure no fuel is misused to build nuclear weapons.

Could this be a workable compromise for the conflict over Iran's nuclear program?

Ambassador Crocker Sees Increased European Support for Iraq

"The US ambassador to Baghdad has said that he has seen a greater recognition from some European countries that they have a stake in the outcome in Iraq," reports Yahoo News. Ryan Crocker referred to the recent visits to Baghdad by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt:

"It seems to me that some major European countries are now taking another look, a new look at Iraq," Crocker said, "and recognising four-and a-half years after the fall of Saddam that they have long-term interests in how things turn out in Iraq." (...) "This expanded European engagement is a very positive thing," Crocker said. (...)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has expressed an interest in travelling to Iraq.

I think Ambassador Crocker is too optimistic regarding European help.

A video clip with Crocker's statement is posted below the fold. There is some advertisement, but so far all ads were for a good cause. Continue reading "Ambassador Crocker Sees Increased European Support for Iraq"

Will Merkel Request the Extradition of CIA Agents?

Officials in Washington have since realized that the German investigation is more than just a symbolic act. This week in Berlin, a group of senior officials from the interior, foreign and justice ministries will meet to discuss the sensitive issue of how the German government should handle the Munich petition for "arrest for the purposes of extradition." There is general agreement within the government in Berlin that the request should be promptly delivered to the Bush administration, which would be tantamount to an official request for the arrest of the men being sought. (...)
At a recent lunch in the German Embassy in Washington, Michael Hayden, the new CIA director, complained about the "bottomless criticism" from Europe that the US government faces for abducting suspicious Islamists. One US diplomat calls Germany's approach the "German double standard."
On the one hand, he says, the Germans seek to benefit from information gleaned by the CIA. On the other, they are careful to keep their hands clean. According to US diplomats, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made it clear to her German counterpart, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that the investigations of the agents present a serious problem.
Apparently, the German prosecutors discovered the real names of the CIA pilots involved in the "renditions":
The US agents were not as smart as the police had assumed -- or perhaps criminally negligent. Thanks to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), all it took was a simple computer search for the investigators in Old Europe, without any official assistance from the US Department of Justice, to determine the real names of "Captain James Fairing," "Eric Fain" and "Kirk James Bird."
UNRELATED: "Verboten: Germany Bans Tom Cruise" reports ABC News:
Germany has barred the makers of a movie about a plot to kill Adolf Hitler from filming at German military sites because its star Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

UPDATE: "Germany Rediscovers the US as a Partner"

"Chancellor Angela Merkel has reoriented Germany away from Russia and toward the United States. Expanded economic ties are just one area of renewed cooperation. But could Germany get burned like the British did?" is the teaser of Spiegel International's article "Merkel's Pact with America," which first appeared in the German print edition. Quote:
It is virtually unprecedented in German history for a chancellor to be so unreservedly aligned with the US. Adenauer, the first chancellor of West Germany, saw America as a guarantor of freedom, but also perceived it as an occupation force. Helmut Schmidt and Willy Brandt, both Social Democratic (SPD) chancellors, were pro-American but innately skeptical.
Merkel, on the contrary, wants to expand Germany's close ties with the United States and is on the verge of making a pact with America the cornerstone of her foreign policy. Indeed, the resoluteness with which she has pursued this goal stands in conspicuous contrast with her government's lack of political progress back home in Germany.
A new beginning in trans-Atlantic relations? Out of consideration for her SPD coalition partners, Merkel has elected not to shine the spotlight too brightly on recent improvements in US-German relations -- indeed, her political modesty is one condition for the policy's success. Should she toot her own horn, she would likely alienate the SPD, her party's partner in Berlin's governing coalition.
UPDATE: There is a lot of bad journalism at Spiegel. And this article is no exception. The Atlantic Review's reader and friend Bill points out that the old America map was not "an especially generous gift" as Spiegel claims. The US paid $10 mio for it, as Bill explains in detail. This is what Spiegel claimed:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will present an especially generous gift during her trip to the United States this week. At a Monday ceremony in the Great Hall of the US Library of Congress, she will hand over to the Americans something Germans would normally be barred from even taking out of the country: a piece of Germany's national cultural heritage. The item in question is a world map drafted by Freiburg native Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. It is a map which shows a rough outline of the new continent, and for the first time uses a name that the immigrants in the New World would eventually adopt for their own: America.