Thursday, December 08, 2005


Merkel-Rice Pilaf

Keeping with the theme started in yesterday's post on the new head of the UK Conservative Party, I thought to cross over the English Channel and look at Europe -- in particular Germany.

Lots of stuff going on over there of late: A contentious election produced Angela Merkel, both the country's first female chancellor and first born and raised in the former East Germany. Merkel officially became chancellor just two weeks ago, following a protracted struggle to form a government (American readers: think of the 2000 presidential election -- but with more than half a dozen parties, various combinations trading support around).

Anyway, Merkel's first challlenge was
the meeting earlier this week with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Europeans are upset about the rendition issue in principle. But in practice, it may be worse: A Lebanese-born German citizen was improperly held for five months by the CIA -- because his name sounded like the guy who was still in jail. He is now planning on suing.

Anyway, since I've only visited Germany four (or is it five?) times, I reached out and managed to corral a guest to give some insights on the current German government. So, our guest today is Jan Burdinski, a businessman I met a couple of years ago on a Berlin visit. Jan is also currently managing operator of a
libertarian think tank. I asked Jan -- who is a member of the libertarian "Frei Democrats" (FDP), and not a member of the government -- to assess Madame Merkel's debut.

Take it away, Herr Burdinski:

The coalition between [the Frei Democratic Party] and [Christian Democratic Union]did not get a majority, that is why urgently-needed reforms in social security, taxes and health care could not be approached. The media started dismantling the need for reform the next day and it was very costly for Merkel to insist on being Chancellor instead of Schröder, who got almost as many (four less) members of parliament.

So now the two big parties [conservative Christian Democrats and liberal Social Democrats] form a so-called "grand coalition" and the only thing really 'great' is the increase in taxes that they agreed upon. Merkel made a u-turn on reform policy compared to the election campaign. Normally you would be smooth in the campaign and then get tough once you are elected. Not her. The campaign was full of "blood, sweat and tears", whereas afterwards no "harmful" reforms are on the agenda any more.

Most of my friends, from any party, are quite disappointed in the outcome of the coalition talks we had. No one is satisfied and there is no vision on where to take the country. Her first "Regierungserklärung" -- like a State-of-The-Union address -- was 75 minutes of hopping from one issue to the next, arguing why what could not be done is the best for the country. Very lame. And then we went straight to Paris, Brussels and London.

[Merkel] starting in Paris in my view sends the wrong signal, though her appearance with NATO gave a strong transatlantic signal. She will get along much better with the Bush administration than the old government. Simply because Schröder and Bush did not get along too well personally. Her foreign minister was the old right hand of Schröder and was involved in all the America-bashing activities. That's a little worrying, but not too much as he seems to be very pragmatic.

On the CIA [rendition] thing: in general I have to admit, it is not well received here. Torture is nothing Germans appreciate, even when handling a terrorist. Guantanamo or flying this German Moslem into Afghanistan to detain him accidentally is not even popular among friends of the GOP here.

What gives the whole incident a nice note is the fact, that our old [Schroeder] government obviously knew about this long ago and said nothing. Steinmeier (our foreign minister) was informed about this months ago. This plays well for Merkel, she can be the good girl, who tells Rice that Germany does not agree with that. Will she get loud over this, no way.

She is a true friend of the US.
Thank you, Jan!

Since Ragged Thots appreciates its international fans, we will eagerly await further commentary from some of our other European and Euro-friendly (particularly German) readers for further perspective on Merkel and U.S.-German relations.

UPDATE: Jan's and my mutual friend Steve Clemons has some very disturbing details on Khaled El-Masri, the above-referenced innocent German kept in CIA custody.

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