At long last, Angela Merkel is Germany’s new – and first woman – Chancellor. Although continuity will remain the hallmark of foreign policy, Germany’s international engagement under Merkel will sound and feel different from that under Gerhard Schroeder’s leadership.
Schroeder came to power seven years ago representing a new generation whose formative experience was not the Cold War, European integration, and transatlantic friendship, but German unification and the restoration of national sovereignty. For him and the team that took over after Helmut Kohl’s 16-year reign, Germany had become a normal country, no different from other European heavyweights like France or Britain.
Indeed, one of Schroeder’s first major foreign-policy experiences was the EU summit of 1999, where the leaders of France and Britain played rough with the newcomer from Berlin. The lesson that Schroeder drew was to insist that Germany could no longer be taken for granted and would demand a role commensurate to its size and weight. Self-assertion became the watchword of German foreign policy.
Thus, when Schroeder claimed special circumstances for Germany’s failure to meet the budgetary ceilings of the European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact, he seemed to be arguing that the restrictions should apply only to smaller countries, not to the big players. When he rightly opposed America’s war against Iraq, the pride of standing up to the world's only superpower was palpable. When he established a close personal and political relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he signaled to the world – and to the EU’s sensitive new Eastern European members – that Germany’s foreign policy would no longer be constrained by the past.