Stepping Up US Experts Want More Leadership from Germany

Germans aren't the only ones with interests at stake in next month's election. The US is watching too -- and Washington is hoping that, once the campaign is history, Germany will show more leadership on global issues.

The US expects Germany to take a bigger leadership role in global issues after the election.
DPA

The US expects Germany to take a bigger leadership role in global issues after the election.

By Emily Schultheis


Germans seem to have already made up their mind. With just under a month to go before the general election, Angela Merkel's conservatives are well ahead in the polls and the chancellor herself likewise remains extremely popular. Change, even should she be re-elected for a third term, isn't likely to be forthcoming, pundits say.

But Germans aren't the only ones with interests at stake. Across the Atlantic, the United States is watching too -- and Washington is hoping that, once the campaign is history, Germany will take on a greater global leadership role on issues like trade, the euro crisis and international security.

Daniel Hamilton, director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, calls it the "expectation gap." "I think the assumption Americans have is that Germany should always step up and take responsibility commensurate with its weight in the world," he says. Americans, he suggests, always expect slightly more from Germany than Germany is willing to give.

For the moment, of course, demands from Washington are few and muted. Because it is election season in Germany, US experts say there are a host of issues which have been put on the back burner until after September 22. But once the election is over and a new government is formed, the US will expect Germany to tackle those issues with renewed effort.

"Clearly there are a lot of pent-up issues that will require the attention of the new German government," says Heather Conley, director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A Hope for German Leadership

Those issues, from Washington's perspective, tend to boil down to a consistent message: The US wants Germany to increase its involvement and leadership when it comes to global affairs. As Europe's strongest economy and its largest country, the US believes there's more Germany could do to pull its weight.

"Certainly people admire Chancellor Merkel, but I do think that people in Washington wish that Germany could take a bigger role in world politics and also in stabilizing the global economy," says Sudha David-Wilp, a senior program officer for the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Germany's role on the international stage is something President Barack Obama alluded to in his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in June. Germany, he said, like the US, needs to see itself as "part of something bigger."

"For we are not only citizens of America or Germany -- we are also citizens of the world. And our fates and fortunes are linked like never before," he said. "I say all this here, in the heart of Europe, because our shared past shows that none of these challenges can be met unless we see ourselves as part of something bigger than our own experience."

Eurozone, Trade and Foreign Policy

Perhaps the biggest area where US trans-Atlantic experts hope to see movement is on economic issues and the ongoing euro crisis. They say Germany could do more to stabilize the European economy and soften its stance on austerity measures to ensure more growth.

"When you have much of the world still teetering and not really on a clear growth trajectory, and Europe really flailing, the German economy is key to the European economy," Hamilton says.

Fran Burwell, vice president of the Atlantic Council, says that even though it's not a politically easy position to take in Germany, the new government should adopt "a more flexible role in terms of debt."

When it comes to economic issues, however, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) may have priority. Both the US and Germany would like to see the establishment of the free-trade agreement and Washington sees Berlin's efforts to help promote the negotiations and bring other European countries on board as being key.

"The TTIP thing is big on the agenda over here (in Washington), and I think Germany has a big investment in that," says Jackson Janes, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. "We would expect Germany to continue to take a lead on making sure that goes somewhere, and doesn't break down over certain issues like culture or food."

Coalition Math

That particular hope seems realistic, given Merkel's own support for a trade deal with the US. But when it comes to foreign policy, some observers in Washington say that, more than anything else, the US wants clarity. Berlin's abstention from the United Nations Security Council vote in 2011 authorizing intervention in Libya remains fresh in many minds, and Germany's approach to the upheavals in North Africa and Syria has been inconsistent at best.

Conley, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says there is some "uncertainty" in Washington about how strong a partner Germany is on military and security issues in the Middle East. She says she would like to see the new government "articulate its foreign and national security views and strategies" following the election.

But first, she notes, the votes must be cast and counted. Even as the polls show that Merkel will likely remain in power, it is unclear who her junior coalition partner might be. "We are … closely following the coalition math," Conley says.

"What would be most disruptive is a long period of coalition negotiations with a government emerging that is unclear on what their basic policy lines would be," Burwell adds.

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