July 12, 2006 | WebMemo on Europe
President George W. Bush travels to Germany this week to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G-8 summit in Moscow. In her first months as German leader, Merkel has made a significant effort to improve relations between Washington and Berlin in the wake of the tensions produced by disagreements over the war in Iraq. The overt hostility that characterized U.S.-German relations in the Gerhard Schroeder era has largely disappeared, replaced by a more cordial working relationship between the White House and the Chancellery. Merkel's visits to Washington in January and May were viewed widely as a foreign policy success, and Germany has worked closely with Washington on an array of foreign policy issues, including the Iranian nuclear crisis and the NATO operation in Afghanistan.
However, despite the thaw in relations between the United States and Germany, underlying long-term tensions still remain, particularly in regard to the war on terrorism, with Guantanamo and rendition remaining major issues of contention. German public opinion is still largely hostile toward U.S. foreign policy, and anti-Americanism remains a major force in German politics. Many Germans see America as a threat to world peace rather than as the defender of international security and democracy.
Merkel's own freedom to maneuver on the world stage is limited by her governing coalition and the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) members who hold key positions in her administration. It is striking that some of the most important portfolios in terms of U.S. interests, including foreign affairs and economic policy, are held by remnants of the Schroeder government, which could barely disguise its contempt for the Bush Administration.
Schroeder's direct influence has continued through the presence in the German cabinet of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, his closest adviser and long-time protégé. Steinmeier, who was Schroeder's chief of staff, took over from Joschka Fischer as Germany's foreign minister, widely regarded as the second most powerful position in the German government. Steinmeier was extremely influential in shaping Schroeder's international outlook and pledged "continuity" in German foreign policy.
It should also be acknowledged that Angela Merkel is no Margaret Thatcher. Merkel has demonstrated little appetite for pushing the kind of intensive economic reform that Germany needs to reverse years of stagnation. Astonishingly, she has proposed tax increases as a solution to the country's economic woes. As a committed Euro-federalist, Merkel is also a firm believer in closer political integration in Europe, despite the rejection of the European Constitution in France and Holland. She has reiterated the traditional German view that France and Germany together, "with their notions about the social market economy and globalization," must remain the driving force of the European Union.
Germany is an important ally in some areas critical to U.S. interests, including the NATO mission in Afghanistan. However, it should also be seen as a vociferous potential opponent of U.S. interests in other key areas, including aspects of the war on terrorism, the scrapping of trade subsidies in the European Union, the European Constitution, and the role of international institutions and treaties. The worldview in Germany, particularly in terms of public opinion, is increasingly shifting away from that of the United States. Germany has become a largely pacifist nation, with a growing belief in submerging its national sovereignty and identity within transnational institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. These trends are counter to U.S. interests.
Recommendations for the Administration
Washington must adopt a hard-nosed approach in its relationship with Germany, which is fundamentally different from the close Anglo-American special relationship. The U.S. should work with Germany on an issue-by-issue basis, cooperating with Berlin on matters of closely aligned common interests but strongly opposing German policy in areas of disagreement.
Specifically, the Bush Administration should:
A Pragmatic Relationship
Washington must adopt a pragmatic, realistic approach toward working with Germany. Realpolitik should be the order of the day. As the EU member with the largest economy and largest population, Germany is too important to be ignored. It is in the U.S. interest to engage Berlin on an issue-by-issue basis, working together where agreement can be reached. But Washington should be under no illusion that the Germany of today is the same as the Germany of Helmut Kohl or Konrad Adenauer in its approach to transatlantic relations.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is the Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow and Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.
 For an in-depth assessment of the U.S.-German relationship, see John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "After Schroeder: U.S.-German Relations in the Merkel Era," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1907, January 11, 2006.
"Backroom Adviser Steps Out of the Shadows," Financial Times, December 6, 2005.
Toby Helm and Colin Randall, "Merkel Alarms Blair over EU Constitution," The Daily Telegraph, November 24, 2005.
For background, see Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "Germany's Strategic Error in the War Against Terrorism," Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 953, January 4, 2006.
See Sara J. Fitzgerald and Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., "Achieving Trade Liberalization: Why the U.S. Should Challenge the EU at Cancun," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1686, September 8, 2003.
Charles Bremner and Anthony Browne, "French Farmers, the British Rebate and a European Moment of Truth," The Times, June 14, 2005.
German Embassy, Washington, D.C., "Fact Sheet: Germany and America-A Strong Alliance for the 21st Century," November 12, 2004.
For further analysis of the Iranian nuclear threat and how it should be addressed, see James Phillips, John C. Hulsman, Ph.D., and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., "Countering Iran's Nuclear Challenge," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1903, December 14, 2005.