Media roundup: Barack gives Angie a push

Barack Obama’s enthusiastic reception of Angela Merkel in Washington wasn't just politeness. As commentators in The Local's media roundup on Wednesday agree, the US was making clear it expects more from Germany.

Media roundup: Barack gives Angie a push
Photo: DPA

President Obama’s reception of Chancellor Merkel was conspicuous for its pageantry and fanfare, especially in view of the mutual irritation the US and Germany have shown for one another lately.

But as foreign affairs analysts point out, the United States is facing a rising China, a rapidly changing Middle East and a eurozone debt crisis that it hopes won’t further contaminate its own fragile economic recovery.

It needs a strong partner in Europe and Germany is the obvious choice, pointed out Stephen Szabo, executive director of the Washington-based Transatlantic Academy, who was visiting Berlin this week.

“We’d love to see (EU Foreign Minister) Lady Ashton be a real leader of foreign policy but that’s not going to happen,” Szabo said. “Who do you have left? The Brits are the most reliable ally and most important militarily … but they are still kind of marginal and they don’t have as much influence in Europe. The French? I don’t think so. Who does that leave?”

The US believes it’s time Germany stepped up and started acting like a regional and even a global leader – that was the subtext widely read by the German press as Merkel received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and wrapped up her two-day visit to Washington.

The centrist Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel noted that praise always has a purpose and in this case, Obama’s praise of Merkel meant to raise expectations of Germany.

“Those who receive praise will soon face the expectation that they act accordingly,” it wrote.

It noted that Obama had urged Germany not to hide behind its history – a reference to the nation’s military reluctance and its hesitation to take charge of Europe – and the grasp the mantle of global leadership.

“The world today does not fear a strong Germany. It is, rather, disappointed when Germany is too reserved.”

Naturally Obama wants something in return for his praise, but that is nothing to be concerned about. according to the paper. “Obama trusts the Germans. That is no reason to be alarmed.”

Noting that Merkel is the “undisputed number one” in Europe, Der Tagesspiegel urged her to start acting like it.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that although the US-German relationship had changed since the Cold War, the two countries still had a lot in common and this should be the basis for new co-operation.

“If protocol is the measure of the quality of the relationship, then one clearly doesn’t need to worry about the German-American relationship. It couldn’t be better,” it wrote.

“The reunited Germany remains for the United States the most important, if sometimes unwieldy and self-righteousness-prone, partner in Europe. If it were up to the Americans, Germany’s leadership role in Europe and beyond couldn’t be great enough.”

Germany’s Switzerland-like reluctance on the Libyan intervention clearly annoyed the United States. Germany is no longer the old security client of the Americans it used to be. But that means the partnership must establish new ground: “A co-operation based on mutual interest, for example in Afghanistan, the Middle East, the response to the rise of new superpowers.”

“That President Obama courted the Chancellor like this in the White House was therefore an investment in the future,” it concluded. “Mrs Merkel should be aware of this. One can quickly lose one’s standing.”

Business daily the Financial Times Deutschland noted that the present relationship was not nearly as bad as some critics made out. It was nothing, for example, like the broken relationship between George W. Bush and Gerhard Schröder after the invasion of Iraq.

Merkel and Obama don’t have a warm relationship, they have a working relationship – a fact that the gushing reception of Merkel in Washington could not hide.

“Obama flattered her, because both sides are important to one another, above all economically,” it wrote.

The right-wing Berliner Morgenpost wrote that Obama was trying to reset the relationship after the tensions of late and this would only be good for both countries.

“The Angie-fest must truly be understood as a new start being driven by Obama,” the paper wrote. “In the face of global shifts in power, the president doesn’t want to let a partnership proven over decades simply run down.

“In sensitive situations, a reliable line of communication between Washington and Berlin is indispensable.

“Even after Obama’s elegant appraisal of the German chancellor, it remains doubtful whether the old axis is still enough to move the world. But divided, Germany and the US will always be weaker.”

The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung urged the chancellor to accept the US challenge to become more engaged in foreign affairs, beyond simply looking after its own interests in issues like the euro.

“You wouldn’t be far wrong if you get the subtle impression that behind the VIP treatment of the German chancellor, Washington actually expects more from Berlin: more foreign policy and security engagement; a greater German presence at international hotspots; more engagement in North Africa; more in fact in the Middle East generally; more in Europe.

“That may be the message for Merkel. The previous level of engagement will not do.”

The Local/djw

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Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.