U.S. and Europe welcome end to German stalemate

Posted in Europe | 11-Oct-05 | Author: Brian Knowlton| Source: International Herald Tribune

Conservative leader Angela Merkel will become Germany's first woman chancellor.
WASHINGTON U.S. and European officials on Monday welcomed the designation of Angela Merkel as Germany's new chancellor, saying they hoped that the end of the German electoral standoff would end a difficult period of uncertainty.

A State Department spokesman, Tom Casey, offered a cautious formulation that scarcely hinted at the high tensions that had strained U.S.-German relations under Chancellor German Schröder, particularly over the Iraq war.

"We welcome Angela Merkel being designated chancellor," Casey told Agence France-Presse. "We've had a strong relationship with Germany and have worked to strengthen it under Chancellor Schröder."

"We look forward to continuing that relationship with the new government and look forward to working with it," he said.

France reacted with less reserve. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, whose country portrays French-German cooperation as central to European development, said he was "delighted that Germany is moving out of a period of uncertainty."

"France is Germany's closest partner, and there can be no European construction without perfect collaboration between France and Germany," Douste-Blazy said.

In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the British leader had sent his congratulations to Merkel and hoped to speak to her later in the day.

Jaap De Hoop Scheffer, the NATO chief, emphasized that Merkel was Germany's first woman chancellor.

"I have known Frau Merkel for a long time," he said. "It is important that she now becomes chancellor, the first woman in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany."

Despite the reserved U.S. reaction, one former State Department official said that Merkel's ascension could only have been welcomed by the Bush White House.

"It's going to be welcomed because you have a new chancellor," said Karen Donfried. "It almost didn't matter who that chancellor was. Obviously, the Iraq war took a huge toll on the U.S.-German relationship in general, but more particularly between President Bush and Gerhard Schröder - almost anyone coming in would be welcomed."

Donfried, who was European policy planner at the State Department when Colin Powell was secretary, said she believed the bargain struck by the Social Democrats of Schröder and the Christian Democrats of Merkel would leave room for the sort of economic reform the United States could only welcome.

The Social Democrats were going to agree only if the Christian Democrats "backed down from some of the more radical components of the economic-reform policy it had been peddling during the campaign, on things like job protection, and collective bargaining procedures," she said.

"The agreement to form a coalition suggests to me that there is a basis for an economic reform package, perhaps not as radical in scale and pace" as the Christian Democrats campaigned on, but a continuation of reforms in a way that would benefit both Europe and the United States, she said.

One policy issue where the United States differed with Merkel's campaign stance was on the eventual accession of Turkey to the European Union - which the United States supported, so strongly as to raise some hackles in Europe, while Merkel expressed grave reservations.

But this settlement of the German elections came a week after a key European decision to move ahead with accession talks for Turkey. The negotiations are expected to last from 10 to 15 years, so any U.S. friction with Merkel over their importance is unlikely to be major.