Sat, Aug 26, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Merkel’s cautious leadership style might be about to change

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely re-election after the Sept. 24 general elections could prove an inflection point in her hitherto restrained and compromising foreign policy

By Paul Carrel  /  Reuters, BERLIN

Illustration: Tania Chou

Alarmed by the rise of unpredictable strongmen around the world, German Chancellor Angela Merkel feels she must do more to defend the Western order on which Germany depends.

It has been a transformation for Merkel. Last year, she dismissed as “absurd” the idea that she should head a Western alliance shaken by US President Donald Trump’s election victory.

Weakened by Europe’s migrant crisis, Merkel even wondered if she should run for re-election.

“She asked herself: ‘Can I do this? Am I ready for this?’” one close aide said.

Yet now, with the migrant issue under control in Germany, the 63-year-old is ready. Visibly happier, she is campaigning for next month’s election with renewed conviction: a resolve to secure a world order threatened by leaders like Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

On the campaign trail, she likes to invoke the “uncertain situation in the world.”

The message is clear, the aide said: “Things have changed; this means Germany must take on more responsibility.”

German foreign policy has been constrained by the legacy of the last World War. However, Merkel is pushing Berlin’s interests beyond its traditional European sphere.

With North Korea, she says Germany is ready to offer diplomatic and political muscle if required, a senior government source said.

Germany is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang and is willing to do what it can to use this channel to help bring about talks.

At the same time, Merkel is using the trade-based relationship she has nurtured with China to press Beijing to help defuse the dispute.

“We must use our good relations with the Chinese to encourage them to come up with constructive proposals on what can be done,” German Bundestag Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation Juergen Hardt said.


In April last year, Merkel described how she realized that trouble on the EU’s doorstep meant Germany must play a bigger role beyond its borders.

Looking at a map showing the Shengen Area — Europe’s passport-free area — in one color and neighboring countries in another, she saw clearly how close Syria and Ukraine were.

“This is Europe’s neighborhood,” she said.

Reacting to crises in this neighborhood, Merkel first strongarmed Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan into a deal to stem the migrant flow from Syria in exchange for EU economic aid.

Now, she wants to slow the tide of refugees from Africa with a new “Marshall Plan” to bring investment and business growth that should persuade people to stay at home.

In Ukraine, Merkel is pursuing with France a joint diplomatic response to Russian meddling, though this has yet to produce peace.

“All of a sudden, German policymakers realize they need to be much bigger stakeholders in this global order on which they depend, but into which they have not invested as much as they should,” said Jan Techau of the American Academy in Berlin.

Merkel is starting to take diplomatic positions out of conviction — a departure from her consensus-based style during the eurozone and migrant crises.

This shift began after Trump’s election, when she set out how she would deal with him: a readiness to work closely on the basis of the values of democracy, freedom, respect for the law and for the dignity of people.


For Merkel, climate policy belongs to this value set. She sees it as crucial to managing globalization, and it has been her principal point of disagreement with Trump.

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