It is symbolic that the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was celebrated at the moment when the black-yellow coalition – the grouping of CDU/CSU – Free Democratic Party – came back to power in Germany. In 1989, when the peaceful anti-communist revolution happened in GDR, Western Germany’s government also consisted of CDU/CSU and FDP. At that time Chancellor Helmut Kohl, leader of Christian Democrats, and Vice Chancellor Hans-Dietrich Genscher, FRG Foreign Minister and head of Free Democratic Party, played a great historic role in the unification of Germany.
It seems that the tasks which the current German government faces (especially in the field of external politics) are as scaled and complex as twenty years ago. And many pin high hopes on the leader of Free Democrats Guido Westerwelle.
At the peak of success
In the election to the Bundestag FDP, comparing to the other parties, won the largest victory in its history. FDP collected 14.6% votes – about 5% more than in 2005 election. Christian Democrats and their unchangeable partner – Christian Social Union from Bavaria – still have the largest representation in the Bundestag. CDU/CSU grouping collected 35.2% votes, which is about 3% less comparing to the results in the previous election. And only the unprecedented loss of the previous partner in the black-red coalition – Social Democratic Party of Germany (23%) – allowed Christian Democrats to form the right-wing majority in the parliament. Although Social Democrats remained the second largest group in the Bundestag (146 deputies), together CDU/CSU and FDP seized 332 seats out of 622. At the same time, 239 seats fell on the share of CDU/CSU, and 93 seats – to the share of Free Democrats. (Left Party has 76 deputies in the Bundestag, and Greens have 68 deputies.)
Long before the election German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that she counted on creating a parliamentary majority that would appear more traditional for the after-war Germany – a majority consisting of CDU/CSU and FDP. Christian Democrats led by Merkel find the union with liberals at least more natural than a right-left government with the participation of Social Democrats. By the way, the leader of Social Democrats Frank-Walter Steinmeier wasn’t hiding his personal political ambitions. When he was Foreign Minister, his policy in many respects contradicted more conservative views of the Chancellor.
There’s nothing strange in the fact that during the election German and foreign media focused on the personality of the Free Democratic Party leader Guido Westerwelle. It wasn’t about his non-traditional sexual views. Firstly, no one in the West is really surprised at such views. Secondly, Westerwelle has proven he is talented, self-dependent and quite tough politician.
But in the field of international diplomacy he had no opportunity to show his worth by that time. And according to many years’ tradition the youngest partner in the coalition always counts on the positions of Foreign Minister and Vise Chancellor. This is why in the period of the formation of the new government led by Angela Merkel German media wondered where the new Foreign Minister would make his first official visit: to Russia, France, Brussels or the US? His first visit would indicate the priority of foreign agency. And it seems that no one predicted that his first visit would be to Warsaw.
Who are you, Dr Westerwelle?
Though it is not a usual practice to translate names, some foreign policy observers in the countries of Eastern Europe see the name Westerwelle (which literary translates “western wave”) as a sign of the upcoming changes. Westerwelle corresponds to his name as a truly “new wave” politician.
Westerwelle will only turn 48 on December 27. And he became the head of FDP this millennium, in 2001. Guido Westerwelle once came to Angela Merkel’s official birthday reception together with his friend and partner Michael Mronz. Everything was done decently and with no affectation.
Guido Westerwelle told Stern that “This would strengthen our foreign policy if German tolerance would become an example for other countries.”
Another widely quoted expression proves that Westerwelle has a sharp tongue: “There is no such thing as democratic socialism; it’s like talking about a vegetarian abattoir.”
Born in North Rhine-Westphalia, a practicing attorney Guido Westerwelle joined FDP in 1980, at the end of the Cold War. The party was then led by Hans Dietrich Genscher, who has undoubtedly set the example for the young politician. In September 1989 Foreign Minister Genscher came to Prague, where at that moment few hundred refugees from GDR lived on the territory of FRG Embassy in the open air. Genscher arranged it with CSSR authorities that all refugees would go to the Western Germany; they were transported to FRG by planes. This was really the beginning of the end of the Communist era. Just in a few weeks the Berlin Wall fell. In his recent interview Genscher called it a “European peaceful revolution.” Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia would later become a part of this process.
Young liberal politician Guido Westerwelle was clearly influenced by all those events. He seems not to forget the role of Poland in the «European peaceful revolution»: Solidarnosc and its leader, electrician Lech Walesa, were the first ones to «short-circuit the world communist system»...
Westerwelle, with all his tolerance and sense of humor, is a rather tough person, and he can stand for his own views and dignity, as well as the views of his party. In the last four years he headed the opposition in the Bundestag. During the election campaign Westerwelle has clearly stated that in the case of his success he would accept the coalition only with Christian Democrats. Right after the election Radio Free Europe – Russia mentioned a typical episode from Westerwelle’s political biography. One of the German TV channels organized a round table in 2005. The program gathered the leaders of those parties that lost the election. SDP leader Chancellor Schroeder (after the election he had to resign) was one of the guests. Being a little tipsy, Schroeder self-confidently claimed that Westerwelle, his opponent in the studio, would be eventually brought to the coalition with SDP. Westerwelle replied: “I may be younger than you – but I’m not more stupid.”
One should mention that during his work as Chancellor Schroeder had active contacts with Putin and created a lobby for Gazprom. After his resignation Schroeder went to assist Gazprom and headed the North European Gas Pipeline Company in 2005. The actions of Schroeder caused lots of criticism from German opposition. Westerwelle said that it’s unacceptable for a parliament member to make profit from his political activity.
Knowing Westerwelle’s fundamental attitude to the topic of human rights, some observers in Eastern Europe connected his visit specifically to the hopes for a more principal German policy (though the future actions of one politician can’t be taken out of Germany’s foreign politics context.) It was typical for Westerwelle’s predecessors in the office of Foreign Minister of Germany to choose Paris (with which the official Berlin now has excellent relations despite the historic past) or London for their debuts in the international arena. But Westerwelle, following the example of Germany’s President Horst Kohler, paid his first visit to Warsaw, where Germany traditionaly has complicated relations. After that he visited Paris. As Frankfurter Allgemeine wrote Frank-Walter Steinmeier would most likely visit Moscow after Paris – so to say, for a balance. But Westerwelle headed to Belgium and Luxemburg after France, and what is more – on his way from Warsaw to Paris he managed to stop in the Hague – to emphasize the respect to small countries. According to the newspaper, this is exactly the style of the current minister.
As Deutche Welle radio noted in its overview of the German Press, Westerwelle’s visit to Warsaw has gained positive assessment from both his counterpart Radoslaw Sikorski and the Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who usually has a critical attitude to his guests from Germany. Sikorsky has rather friendly relations with former German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, but there is still tension in the relations of the two countries. For example, Poland in various ways was supporting the idea of faster entrance to NATO for Georgia and Ukraine. But after the last year war in South Ossetia Germany started treating this idea, to put it mildly, more frostily. Warsaw remains negative about the idea of Nord Stream Pipeline, which would cross the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany not entering Poland. German radio quoted Die Welt: “It is not an accident that for the first time the coalition agreement of the German Parliament gives a special role to the relations with Poland. It also mentions general problems, such as operation in Afghanistan and supply of energy to Europe. As it became known from the official circles, Poland and Germany want to help Russia with modernization and to cooperate closely with the EU neighbors Belarus and Ukraine.”
In connection to the issue of German-Polish politics, the press of Germany noted that Putin’s speech in Gdansk on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II (along with some other statements of Russian politicians) signifies that Russia keeps sticking to some apologetic assessments of its Stalinist past and its own role in starting of the war. Deutche Welle’s journalists think that, as distinct from Russia, the history dispute between Germany and Poland has ended. However, some people in Poland would disagree with this opinion. For example, Polish society acutely reacts to the activities of the Federation of Expellees headed by Erika Steinbach. June this year the CDU/SCU deputies proposed to condemn the expulsion of Germans from the countries of Eastern Europe, which took place after the World War II. The proposal caused a scandal in Poland. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, brother of the president Lech Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party and the former Prime Minister, claimed that Germany tries to revise its after-war borders. After that Angela Merkel visited Poland. Polish society has positively accepted her visit and especially her brilliant speech in Gdansk on September 1 this year. Unbelievably, Russian Vesti TV dropped out from their broadcast the translation of Merkel’s meaningful words: “Here, on Westerplatte, I call to honor the memory of all poles who have unspeakably suffered from the crimes of German occupation forces.” Russian Premiere Putin didn’t dare to say anything similar about the Soviet occupation of Polish “Kresy Wschodnie” in 1939.
Here it is worth mentioning the recent Washington’s decision not to place the elements of the US missile defense system in Poland and Czech Republic. The decision was made with no preliminary consultations. On the background of the 70th anniversary of the tragic events in Poland many see the decision as an insult.
Only the “consolatory” visit of the US Vice President Joe Biden to Central Europe – first of all, to Poland – slightly removed the acuteness of the initial reaction of Warsaw. During his visit Biden explained that the plans for placing the missile defense elements in the region are being reviewed, not cancelled, and that Poland will certainly participate in the realization of the upcoming improved version of the system.
German tandem in international politics
Before Foreign Minister of Germany Guido Westerwelle made his first visit across the ocean in the beginning of November, Chancellor Angela Merkel came to USA. During her visit she, in particular, gave a huge speech in the US Congress. Before her a similar honor was given only to FRG Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1957. Unexampled format of the current Merkel’s visit was, among other things, connected to the predicted absence of president Obama in Berlin on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (Those days he started the visit to the countries of Asia.) In her speech Angela Merkel expressed gratitude to the American nation for liberating Germany from Nazi dictatorship, protecting it from Soviet threat and organizing an airbridge to Berlin in 1948. She also mentioned the famous words John F. Kennedy said visiting Western Berlin: “I am a Berliner!” Merkel shared her personal memories about the period when Germans in GDR were seeking the words of truth from the West, and her own relatives were smuggling the forbidden literature from Western Germany. Chancellor spoke about common values which still unite Germans and Americans; about the power of freedom and democracy and the Euro Atlantic solidarity. Speaking about the nuclear program of Iran, Merkel emphasized that the leadership of that country can’t test the patience of the civilized world forever. She said the nuclear weapon “in the hands of an Iranian president who denies the Holocaust, threatens Israel, and denies Israel the right to exist is not acceptable.”
Her speech in the Congress was interrupted with applauds more than 20 times. Chancellor’s speech sounded as an absolute ode to the allied relationships of Germany and USA, starting from 1945. By the way, those relationships were not always simple. It is enough to recall Chancellor Schroeder’s flat refusal to support the US military operation in Iraq in 2003.
One of the acute problems which were recently discussed in Germany is the participation of the Bundeswehr in the operations to support peace in Afghanistan together with the international force. Many politicians stand for the complete withdrawal of German soldiers from that country. One way or the other, the discussion of many complicated international topics fell on the lot of Westerwelle. By the way, same as President Obama he stands for the complete nuclear disarmament. One of the priorities of his foreign policy is a nuclear-free Europe and withdrawal of all nuclear armaments from the US bases in Germany. German politician has declared this goal during his election campaign.
An international scandal in the field of economics has in the last minute supplemented the agenda of Westerwelle’s negotiations with the Secretary of State in Washington. The scandal was caused by an unexpected refusal of the recent bankrupt, American auto giant GM, to sell German company Opel (a part of the concern at the time) to Canadian company Magna and Russian Sberbank. GM’s decision caused fury in Germany, which has allotted many millions of credits to the counterpart to secure the deal which defines the fate of thousands of workers in Opel car factories in Germany and other countries of Europe. One of the factories, by the way, is in Polish town of Glivice. (As a matter of fact, the town went down in history as a place where the provocative seizure of a radio station by Nazis has started the World War II.)
So in the very beginning of his activity Westerwelle had to do the rough work to solve the ongoing conflicts – including the conflict with Germany’s main allies in NATO.
Chancellor Merkel and Vice Chancellor Westerwelle are united not by some tactical party concerns that allow the two leaders maintain a coalition; they are united by the principal world view issues. These issues include the priority of human rights in forming international politics or at least a public declaration of this principle.