Herr Fischer Goes to Washington

MUNICH: His party, the Greens, once stood for pacifism and ecology. He was once a stone-throwing, radical, street-fighting man. Now Joschka Fischer sports elegant three-piece suits, lays wreaths at the tombs of unknown soldiers and, as foreign minister, represents Germany to the world. That transformation will be scrutinized in his forthcoming visit to a skeptical America.

Since Helmut Kohl's semi-eternal government was voted out of power last year, Fischer has become the surprising symbol for continuity and European commitment in German diplomacy. Although his party received a mere 7% of the vote, Fischer defines the framework within which Germany's international objectives are formulated. Even Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, who suggested in a series of throw-away remarks that his government would steer a different, more assertive course, now tows the line Fischer has tied.

Schroder's early remarks suggested a real change in German foreign policy. The special relationship with France? Perhaps it should be turned into a triangle involving Britain. Commitment to European integration? Fine, but first a big reduction in Germany's financial contribution. Enlargement of the EU to include Central Europe? All right in principle, but let's wait. At any rate, Germany would pursue a foreign policy in line with national self-interest. The new Chancellor, whose previous job as a provincial premier had not given him much exposure to international affairs was, at the beginning of his tenure, very much at sea.

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