(23/08/08) Merkel asked to take lead in reshaping East-West relations

The notion that German Chancellor Angela Merkel should step up and take the lead within the EU to resolve tensions over Georgia and reshape the West's relations with Moscow appears to be emerging, with analysts claiming Germany is the only country that Russia might listen to.


According to a poll by Harris Interactive published in early April, most European citizens consider German Chancellor Angela Merkel to be the most influential leader in Europe (EurActiv 07/04/08).

Perhaps due to her East German roots, Merkel represents a marked difference from her predecessors - and especially Gerhard Schroeder - by taking a firmer stance with Moscow. Whenever Merkel has met Putin and Medvedev, she has brought up sensitive issues such as press freedom, human rights and non-governmental organisations.

Merkel has also stood her ground over foreign policy issues. Despite fierce opposition from Russia, Germany supported the United States by recognising the independence of Kosovo. And while the chancellor does not like the idea of the United States deploying part of its missile shield in Eastern Europe, she has gone along with it. She also stood alongside Poland by refusing to open negotiations on a new EU partnership agreement with Russia until the Kremlin ended its embargo of certain Polish agricultural exports to Russia.

Analytical articles in two major international newspapers see Germany assuming a new, more important role in the EU thanks to the chancellor's shift of Germany's traditionally warm stance towards Russia.

According to Markus Walker of the Wall Street Journal, Merkel's sceptical view of Russia's foreign policy is gaining ascendancy over other German policymakers' longstanding hopes for a special relationship with Moscow.

On a similar note, Judy Dempsey writes in the International Herald Tribune that "Merkel has stood her ground over foreign policy issues," meaning that "Russia can no longer expect automatic sympathy from the German chancellor". In this context, Dempsey argues further, "Germany is now in a stronger position to play a bigger role in the European Union in shaping the bloc's long-term relationship with Russia and […] the Caucasus".

"Germany is the one country that can warn Russia," said James Sherr, director of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, as quoted by the IHT article. "Russia does listen to what Germany says. If Germany can make clear statements about the consequences facing Russia over Georgia and whatever else it might decide to do, it will have an impact on Russia," says Sherr.

Merkel visited Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 17 August, where she commented that "if it wants to, Georgia will become a member of NATO". The statement heraled a major U-turn in German foreign policy, despite widely differing from the views of her Social Democratic Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who she is likely to run against in next year's general elections.

However, it does not mean that there will be any immediate change in Germany's opposition to Georgia and Ukraine's NATO membership (EurActiv 2/04/08).

"There will be no change in the German position on NATO membership," said Eckart von Klaeden, a Merkel confidant and Christian Democratic foreign policy expert in parliament, quoted in the Financial Times . "It would be wrong to depart from the Bucharest position at this stage," he argues, referring to the NATO summit that took place in the Romanian capital in April.


According to Stratfor, a US media close to intelligence sources , Merkel now has tough choices to make. Stratfor sources say Russian President Medvedev has offered Merkel a "security pact" between the two countries. Details are unknown, but the Russian aim seems to be "to rip NATO apart".

"Everything depends on Berlin's choice between maintaining its dependence on the United States or flipping the entire balance structure in Europe by striking a deal with Russia," Statfor writes. It goes further, claiming: "Berlin has been itching to reassert itself as a real and unbound power on the continent once again. However, though it has new economic and political strength, Germany is in many ways more vulnerable than it has been in more than 60 years. Berlin's choice will shape the future of Europe and possibly the world."


Press articles

IHT: Merkel and Georgia: The pressure’s on herexternal
WSJ: Merkel Taking Lead Role In Shaping Europe's Lineexternal
Statfor: Germany: Merkel's Choice and the Future of Europeexternal
Economist.com: The EU and Georgiaexternal

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