Saturday, May 14, 2011

Merkel’s dwindling interest in foreign policy: Together, the chancellor and Westerwelle have weakened Germany’s international standing

The slump in the popularity of [Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle] and the Free Democrats is bad news for [Chancellor Angela Merkel], especially when the Christian Democratic Union is also smarting after big setbacks in recent regional elections
writes Judy Dempsey (while, in an unrelated story, Michael Kimmelman discusses the latest revelations regarding the "dark secrets" linked to Adolf Eichmann's post-war escape to Argentina.)
For Germany, Mr. Westerwelle’s weakness is compounded by Mrs. Merkel’s dwindling interest in foreign policy at a time when Europe is in desperate need of strong leadership to deal with the immense changes sweeping across the Middle East. Together, say analysts, Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Westerwelle have weakened Germany’s international standing.

In March, they snubbed their French, British and U.S. allies by abstaining in a U.N. Security Council vote authorizing a no-flight zone over Libya. “It was the wrong decision. It damaged Germany’s reputation as a reliable ally,” said Elmar Brok, a European Parliament lawmaker and leading foreign policy expert in Mrs. Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party.

“The point is that Germany did not bring anyone else along,” said Heather Grabbe, E.U. expert and director of the Open Society Institute in Brussels, which promotes democracy and human rights. “Maybe it was a justified decision but there was no strong moral argument communicated either to the domestic audience or Germany’s E.U. partners.”

…With Europe confronted with upheaval in the Middle East, a continuing war in Afghanistan and unresolved issues in the Balkans, Germany can ill afford a weak foreign minister.

“Germany has often acted as a moral conscience of Europe in foreign policy,” said Ms. Grabbe. “To play that role, Germany’s foreign minister has to take a lead and articulate the foreign policy dilemmas facing all of Europe.”

It was Mrs. Merkel who tried to do just that during her first term as Chancellor from 2005 to 2009. She repaired the rift between Berlin and Washington after former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, had opposed the U.S invasion of Iraq. With Russia and France, he established an anti-war “alliance” which in turn deeply divided NATO and the European Union

Mrs. Merkel also became a beacon for human rights campaigners in Russia, China and Iran by speaking out for the values of an independent news media and basic civil and human rights.

But since being re-elected, she has shown scant interest in foreign policy. It is the euro crisis and the future of nuclear energy that have monopolized her time, leaving little time even for fundamental issues like the war in Afghanistan or the Arab revolutions.