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Chancellor Merkel's Second Government: Continuity and Change

Written by Shimon Stein

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INSS Insight No. 138

A month after the general elections in Germany on September 27, 2009, the German parliament (Bundestag) convened for its first session, at which time Chancellor Merkel's second government was sworn in. Merkel completed the coalition negotiations with the government's new partner, the Liberal party, in record time.

Even though the outgoing government boasted several achievements, including steering the German economy safely through the economic crisis, the chancellor conducted her election campaign with a drive to establish a liberal-right wing coalition.

Merkel hoped that through such a coalition she would be able to implement her party's policy in two areas that head the incoming government's priorities, increasing growth and creating jobs, while preserving the achievements of the outgoing coalition regarding pensions, national insurance, health care, and family budgets. Yet despite the satisfaction with the government in public opinion polls in the months leading up to the elections, the public voted for change.

Growth, education, and solidarity are the three key words in the title of the coalition agreement, which perforce is a compromise between partners' opening positions and the constraints dictated by one of the toughest economic realities in the history of the Federal Republic. In this situation the chancellor on the one hand faces the need to keep her promise to be the chancellor of all Germans, while on the other hand must fulfill her promise for change and implement a new economic financial agenda. She also had to meet the Liberal party half way, although in contrast with her own party, which views itself as representing the various strata of society, the Liberal party sees itself as a sectoral party striving for radical reform in the areas of taxation, health, labor laws, and other domestic liberalization. In order to complete the coalition talks as quickly as possible, a number of issues on finances and health remained open until designated committees found a solution.

One important change from the policy of the outgoing government is the decision to extend the operation of several nuclear power stations, whose closure was decided on by the government that preceded the outgoing administration. Foreign and defense areas did not constitute a major issue in the coalition talks, and the compromise that was reached reflects continuity with only slight changes. The three foundations that continue to provide the basis of the defense and foreign policies are: continued cooperation on integration of the EU; the transatlantic partnership, based on NATO; and multilateralism as a means of enabling Germany to advance its important interests in foreign and defense activity.

Other noteworthy points in the agreement include: the need to adjust multilateral frameworks in the financial area and other frameworks outside the UN to new circumstances in the wake of the financial crisis; strengthening the UN through comprehensive reform to reflect the changes in the balance of power since the end of the Cold War and the financial crisis (in this context Germany is aiming to attain a place for the European Union on the Security Council and, until that happens, a place for itself); further careful expansion of the EU - namely, retaining all the criteria for admission that must be fully met and support for further negotiations with Turkey without setting a date for their completion, underscoring that if Turkey or the EU is unable to comply with the requirements it will be possible to find a framework such as a special status that will strengthen ties between the EU and Turkey (wording that suits Merkel's policy, which overall is not eager to admit Turkey to the EU); endorsement of continued extension of the EU's neighborhood policy (east of Germany, and not the Mediterranean, is the region mentioned); and calling for enhanced coordination and activity with those embracing Western values. With regard to Germany's neighbors, emphasis is on relations with Russia, both in the multilateral context - strengthening NATO ties with Russia and aiming to establish a Euro-Atlantic defense architecture with close cooperation with Russia in solving regional crises - and in the bilateral context.

In the spirit of continuity - together with enthusiasm and determination for change, particularly from the point of view of incoming Foreign Minister Westerwelle - issues like disarmament and arms control have an important place on the incoming government's agenda. There is support for President Obama's goal for a nuclear arms-free world and other disarmament initiatives. Until the vision is realized, the incoming government eyes interim measures to boost security, in order to prevent the emergence of new nuclear states and a continuation of the arms race. In the context of the 2010 NPT review conference, Germany intends to take the initiative in formulating new conventions and signing existing conventions. (German activity in the above area is undoubtedly a potential difference of opinion with Israel). Following pressure from the Liberal party the agreement includes a clause calling for nuclear weapons to be removed from Germany, in coordination with NATO and the United States.

Chancellor Merkel's intervention is evident regarding the Middle East. Germany has reiterated its special commitment to Israel as a Jewish state; the addition of a Jewish state is mentioned for the first time in the government manifesto and is a unique phenomenon in the European milieu. With the goal of stability and democracy, the two-state solution is advocated: Israel should be recognized by all its neighbors and its citizens able to live in peace and security alongside a Palestinian state whose citizens enjoy the right to self-determination. A longstanding Liberal party position resonates in a call to convene a regional conference based on the format of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and also based on Annapolis and the Roadmap.

A change from the outgoing government is Germany's intention to gradually reduce its contribution to the UNIFIL force in Lebanon as a step to ending its involvement there. The move was initiated by the Liberal party, which from the outset opposed the decision of Chancellor Merekel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier to dispatch a naval force to UNIFIL. Westerwelle explained his opposition on historical grounds that prevent Germany from sending a military force to the Middle East, due to its special relationship with Israel. Continued adherence to this line is liable to limit Germany's ability to take on new missions in the future, and as a result, to limit its influence. Also mentioned in the agreement is the need to strengthen Lebanon (boosting its sovereignty and stability) and Iraq (developing its democracy and continuing its rehabilitation).

The clause relating to Iran, which declares that together with partners in the negotiations Germany strives to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons, constitutes a continuation of German policy in this area. The way to achieve this goal is by means of negotiations and, if necessary, through intensified sanctions. The expectation is for Iranian transparency on the nuclear project, and certainly Iran's right to use civilian nuclear energy must not constitute a threat to its neighbors.

On the matter of Afghanistan, which reflects domestic (growing opposition of large parts of the public to continued military presence) and international considerations (operations within NATO as part of the fight against terror), the agreement determines that responsibility for security is to be gradually transferred to the Afghani government, in order to generate the conditions for removing the German force (as per the Chancellor's wish), which will be implemented by Germany in coordination with its allies.

Westerwelle, the Liberal party chairman and new foreign mister, has no international experience. In the spirit of Walter Scheel, the highly active Hans-Dietrich Genscher, and Klaus Kinkel, he continues the tradition of liberal foreign ministers: The defense portfolio was entrusted to the rising star of German politics Baron Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who served as finance minister in the previous government. He is a young talented man who, as a member of the Bundestag, acquired great experience in foreign policy. The defense portfolio allows him to enter the gray area between foreign policy and defense policy. Another central figure alongside Chancellor Merkel will be Minister of Finance Schauble, who served as minister of the interior in the outgoing government and was the right hand man of Chancellor Kohl.

Once they are presented, the manifestos of parties and governments are usually consigned to drawers or are used by the opposition. It may be assumed that the difficult reality with which Germany will have to contend in the coming years will force it to take steps that are not compatible with the goals to which it committed in the coalition manifesto.

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The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) is an independent academic institute that studies key issues relating to Israel's national security and Middle East affairs. Through its mixture of researchers with backgrounds in academia, the military, government, and public policy, INSS is able to contribute to the public debate and governmental deliberation of leading strategic issues and offer policy analysis and recommendations to decision makers and public leaders, policy analysts, and theoreticians, both in Israel and abroad. As part of its mission, it is committed to encourage new ways of thinking and expand the traditional contours of establishment analysis.

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