The Climate Change Showdown Merkel's Plan for Salvaging the G-8 Summit
US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are competing for control of the climate change agenda at the G-8 summit. The minutes of a secret meeting to plan the German government's strategy, obtained by DER SPIEGEL, reveal the hard line Merkel plans to take.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to take a hard line on climate change at this week's G-8 summit.
May 20 was a Sunday, which already qualified it as a good day for a meeting at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to iron out the most important details of an appearance she herself views as the most important of her chancellorship. She had invited a small group of eight people to the Chancellery that afternoon. They had spent the last few months preparing for the G-8 summit in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, which the German chancellor will host.
The group included German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the chancellor's senior summit advisor Bernd Pfaffenbach -- known as Merkel's "sherpa" in the G-8 jargon -- her experts on the economy and foreign policy, office manager and all-round advisor Beate Baumann, and the busy deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg, who also served under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and whose tactical skills both Merkel and Baumann value.
The main topic at the meeting was the upcoming summit, of course. But the longer the attendees discussed the event, the more obvious it became that Germany was on a course of conflict with the leading Western power. The five-page minutes of the meeting, which have been obtained by DER SPIEGEL, read in part like the script of an unplanned but not entirely disagreeable provocation.
From the beginning, Merkel and the group had no illusions about the US president's intentions. The chancellor's senior economic advisor, Jens Weidmann, had done his own research, and he presented his conclusions to the group. The minutes read: "Dr. Weidmann reported that the US president's advisor on climate issues is currently traveling through a number of emerging nations, the goal being to intervene against Germany's ambitious G-8 agenda on the subject of climate protection."
The chancellor was combative when consulting with her own people. Merkel refuses to allow her image as a vocal advocate of climate protection to be diminished, not even by George W. Bush. According to the minutes, Merkel insisted that her government take a tough stance and not budge a millimeter at preparatory meetings at the expert level.
"It is clear to her that the Sherpa meeting in Heiligendamm is doomed to be a failure when it comes to this issue," read the minutes. "It is necessary to clearly spell out the differences."
Cooperation with the Russians -- against Bush -- is another option, the document quotes Merkel as saying. Merkel discusses a confidential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samara, where Putin apparently indicated that there could be some movement on his part.
The minutes, which are labeled "Classified -- For Official Use Only," also reveal that the German government plans to increase public awareness of the climate issue. Climate change, the document reads is "easier to communicate" than all other topics relating to financial markets and world trade talks. With a view to the German public, the document states: "A G-8 reduction goal for greenhouse gases would undoubtedly be a great success."
The meeting's participants agreed that German voters, from Rügen on the Baltic Sea to Passau in the foothills of the Alps, are the target audience for what Steg called "multi-level communication." "It is important," the document states, that "the national perspective of the G-8 be seen as being in the foreground" -- a position which stands in stark contrast to the internationalist declarations Merkel has been issuing in public.
The group itself could hardly have been surprised when Bush publicly took a position last Thursday that directly contradicts Merkel's. The US president, who, in his conversations with the chancellor, criticized her several times for her stubbornness and, in particular, found fault with the decisions reached at the European Union climate summit, is trying to portray himself as the great realist. Fighting climate change is all well and good, says Bush, but not at the cost of growth and prosperity.
The US president announced his own climate protection initiative just a few days before the G-8 summit was set to begin. Part of his plan is to launch a series of meetings with the major industrialized nations and the countries with the strongest economic growth. Bush made it clear that the United States would expect to assume the leadership in this process, a role the Chancellery had in fact already claimed for Merkel.
Anxious as the powerful are to avoid giving this impression, a showdown seems inevitable in Heiligendamm. The smiling photo ops in beautiful, natural surroundings will likely stand in sharp contrast to what happens behind the scenes: America against Germany, a climate change deadbeat against a courageous contender for a better world -- he against she.