Canada has decided not to take part in America's missile defense shield. It's time to begin EU accession talks.
With winter refusing to give in to spring across Europe, many are slowly beginning to succumb to one of the most human of all emotions: self pity. Germany, as a nation, is no different. The papers on Thursday are full of articles and editorials detailing the miseries facing Germany at the moment: high unemployment (5.2 million in February), rising child poverty figures (according to a study released this week) and monthly public health insurance dues that are refusing to fall despite a 4 billion surplus in 2004.
Yet despite the cold, gray skies and the widespread depression, some German commentators on Thursday do manage to cast an analytical eye to areas beyond the country's borders. Canada, for example, makes a surprise appearance on the German editorial pages on Thursday. With the country that Americans often refer to, mockingly, as the "Great White North" looking more and more like a member of the European Union each day, editorialists are having a field day over Ottawa's decision to snub Washington on its planned "Son of Star Wars" missile defense system. Of course, with cross-border annual trade of about 360 billion, it's unlikely this troubled marriage is headed for divorce court anytime soon. But it does give German papers a chance to point out how differently two New World countries created by European forefathers are evolving.
"Sovereignty and autonomy on the one side and a tight relationship with its neighbor and thoughtfulness on the other are the two poles between which Canada moves," muses the business daily Handelsblatt. That tightrope walk can make for tricky relations between Canada and the US -- a paring that has become increasingly difficult since the Iraq war. But Baghdad wasn't the first fight in this power marriage. "In the 1970s, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau annoyed the US with his Cuba policies, by establishing diplomatic relations with China (before the US) and by opening the country to Vietnam draft dodgers," it writes. Those difficulties were followed in the '80s and '90s by increased cooperation. But in recent years, Canada has promoted the International Criminal Court and ratified the Kyoto Protocol, putting Washington in a "huff." "Since Bush's election, both societies seem to be diverging," it adds. "It's become easier than ever for Canadians to define their identity as the opposite of that of the America of the Republicans." Ottawa long ago did away with the death penalty, it has strict gun control laws and the list of diverging societal values is growing. Now Canada wants to introduce same sex marriages, which the US has rejected. And unlike Washington, which has a zero-tolerance policy on drugs, Ottawa is planning to decriminalize small quantities of marijuana. A recent poll found that 33 percent of Canadians believe faith plays an important role in their daily lives compared to 60 percent of Americans. "Canadians believe they view the world in a more 'international' way," Handelsblatt writes, "that they believe they are more European when it comes to their views of 'social values'."
The center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung says the latest blowing of hot air is much ado about nothing. "Once again Canada and the US have no understanding of each other," it opines. "The Americans see the latest decision of their northerly neighbor not to participate in the missile defense program as a slap in the face." Washington, it says, has carefully masked its rage over the decision. Condoleezza Rice even planned to cancel a visit to Ottawa until Canada pleaded with her to come. "But Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is probably unhappier: George W. Bush still hasn't returned the call he made last week in which he planned to inform the US government of Ottawa's position." It's not the first time America has given Canada the cold shoulder -- Bush cancelled a visit after it opposed the Iraq war. And public opinion polls show Canadians don't care much for their neighbors. "With the rejection of the missile defense system, the Americans now have more doubts than ever about the Canadians' reliability," it adds. Still, the pair share deeply interwoven economies, an undefended border and they share a North American defense pact. "Americans and Canadians are damned to friendship -- and short-term arguments won't change a thing," it concludes.
Another region that many focus on is the Middle East. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been traveling in the region all week and has visited a number of countries, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Yemen and Oman, that no previous German chancellor had ever before visited. Of course the temperatures in these countries are all toasty warm, but that's not the real reason Schroeder chose to visit them. In actuality, Schroeder has once again taken up his traveling salesman persona and is peddling all manner of German products from the Transrapid magnetic railway to chemical factories to weapons.
For the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, such a sales trip is hardly out of character for Schroeder. After all, he is becoming famous for bringing more industry leaders on his trips abroad with him than political advisors. He was heavily criticized during recent trips to China and Russia for placing business squarely ahead of human rights concerns. On this trip too, the paper points out, "Schroeder doesn't make a big deal out of the fact that his trip to the Persian Gulf is primarily to advertise for the German economy." But the paper sounds a cautionary note. Schroeder needs to recognize that, especially given Germany's desire to play a larger role in international politics, he is walking a fine line. He should not abandon political messages solely to make a buck. "Those who ... warn of an arms race in the Middle East may have difficulties explaining away German companies delivering tanks or submarines into the Gulf region."
The financial daily Handelsblatt, while quietly praising Schroeder for extolling recent local elections in Saudi Arabia, likewise seems to expect a bit more from Germany's chancellor. After all, there are a number of signs that values in the Middle East -- and on the Arabian Peninsula -- are gradually shifting toward democracy. And while stumping for the German economy is valuable, just as important is stumping for a continuation of the trend toward free societies most recently seen in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon. "These examples must be presented as the future of the region to those countries still hesitating. That would also refute the message of the hate mongerers: The West wants democracy in the Middle East, not oil dictatorships."
Meanwhile, the Financial Times Deutschland turns its eye once again toward Syria and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's demand that Syria make up its mind as to which direction it wants to go. This week, she, President Bush and France have demanded that Syria withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanon. The FTD argues that "this is not just another concealed threat. Rather, it is an objective description of the situation. Syria's neighborhood is in flux such that the Bashar al-Assad regime in fact does need to make a strategic decision. The conservative daily Die Welt, on the other hand, argues that were Syria to withdraw, it is not clear that Lebanon would transform itself into a democracy. "Syria," the paper writes, "should only withdraw when an orderly transfer of power (in Lebanon) is possible. That doesn't, however, mean that the pressure on Damascus should wane."