“He will be difficult for us Germans and Europeans. He’ll be demanding. But we could do with a bit of that,” Müntefering told the daily Passauer Neue Presse. “We could use a little pioneer spirit in Europe too.”
Obama has said greater cooperation with US allies will be a hallmark of his foreign policy after the divisive years of the Bush administration.
Berlin is hoping Washington will agree to new guidelines for the global financial markets. But the German government also fears the new US leader will demand greater military contributions to the NATO mission in Afghanistan – which is widely unpopular in Germany.
“I hope there will be an intensive cooperation between the USA and Europe,” said Müntefering. “Both will have to grapple with a large responsibility.”
The SPD's coalition partner at the federal level, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is also girding itself for changes to US foreign policy that could affect Germany.
CDU vice chairman Andreas Schockenhoff has drawn up a position paper calling for the United Nations to create an "international contact group" of world powers to end the war in Afghanistan.
The paper said it should include the five permanent UN Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - as well as the European Union. Any group should also include Afghanistan and Pakistan and other neighbours, the document said.
Iran was not expressly named in the paper, but the German media quoted Schockenhoff as saying the CDU would welcome Iran's participation.
"The group should aim to reach an international consensus...that the stability of Afghanistan should be an objective of the utmost importance," the paper said, adding that weakening al Qaida is "a common interest" to the international community.
Presented on the day of US President Barack Obama's inauguration and under the title "For A Closer Transatlantic Partnership," the Christian Democrats also welcomed the new US leader raising the possibility of direct talks with Iran on its nuclear programme.