Merkel to lead her own way

Angela Merkel made few waves in her first week as German chancellor, sticking to her script as she darted to Paris, Brussels and London.

But as she prepares to lay out her government's priorities in her first major speech to parliament on Wednesday, signs are already emerging that she will run Germany very differently from her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder, especially in foreign policy.

Where Schroeder favoured personality-driven diplomacy that brought close ties with France and Russia, Merkel promises a more balanced approach that puts German interests firmly before friendships.

While Schroeder often relished taking sides on divisive issues like the U.S.-led Iraq war and the EU budget, Merkel will be less eager to trumpet her views in public, preferring instead to wield her influence behind the scenes.

Although she was at pains to stress continuity during her European tour, analysts say her choice of destinations, what she did and didn't say on each stop, and the tone of the two-day trip gave glimpses of a wholesale shift in the style of German leadership.

"There is talk of continuity but that will last only as long as it takes the new government to make its own mark," said Eberhard Sandschneider, director of the Berlin-based German Council on Foreign Relations.

"Merkel may not have said much new but she has sent some very clear signals."

In running a fragile coalition government with Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) and steering foreign policy together with close Schroeder ally and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Merkel will have to maintain the delicate balance that was already on display last week.

In Paris, Merkel stressed the importance of German-French ties but took care not to portray the relationship as exclusive. She pointedly travelled on to Brussels the same day to underline her commitment to Europe and the NATO alliance.

In London, the tone of her news conference with Prime Minister Tony Blair was a sharp break from the thinly veiled public scraps that Blair and Schroeder often had.

Merkel's discreet style, perhaps a legacy of her upbringing in communist East Germany, led many in her male-dominated Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to underestimate her during a rapid 15-year rise to the top of the party.

Now, analysts say, it could serve her well in pushing her foreign priorities within the "grand coalition" and returning Germany to its traditional role as Europe's honest broker, Swissinfo reports.

Photo: Spiegel


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