Angela Merkel is a name you may not have heard but you are likely to hear a good deal about in the near future. Ms. Merkel was nominated to head the German Christian Democratic Alliance (CDU and CSU parties) for the September 18th election against current chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. She is from East Germany, has a science background, is the daughter of a Protestant minister (which is in contrast to most of her party's Catholic members) and is known for being shrewd.
Mr. Schroeder, much like his counterpart Mr. Chirac in France, is unpopular. With a growth rate of an anemic 1.1% and unemployment near 12% (source: Economist), German and French citizens have much in common to bemoan about their current leadership.
Ms. Merkel is important to the future of Europe and the future of US-European relations for many reasons if she wins election. To win the support of Germans, she is focusing on jobs and fears about Turkey joining the EU. As the San Diego Union Tribune points out:
"Merkel also called for 'a truly honest discussion of Turkish membership in the European Union.' Merkel, in contrast with Schroeder, says the largely Muslim country would overstretch the 25-nation EU and should instead be offered a vaguely defined 'privileged partnership.'"
Her election would move Germany closer to the British in European politics and away from France. This would also alleviate many of the tensions between the US and Germany stemming from Mr. Shroeder's decision to use Iraq as an election issue and strain relations. As the Economist explains, Ms. Merkel will lead from a conservative position:
"[W]itness her long list of planned reforms, which are quite radical in the German context: simplifying tax, overhauling pensions, reducing job protection and curbing the trade unions. In some ways, she resembles another single-minded lady, who rose from modest low-church origins and a scientific training to take her country by the horns and shift it in a rightward direction—Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps that explains why she also prefers the current British prime minister to Nicolas Sarkozy, who may well be her opposite number in Paris if he becomes president of France."
Her election in Germany, which is likely, will further minimize France and be yet another democratic rejection of the unaffordable socialist policies of Western Europe. Her election would also benefit Prime Minister Tony Blair as he begins his 6-month presidency of the EU in the fallout of the French and Dutch revolt on the proposed constitution.
France could be further isolated not only internationally but also within Europe. The policies Europe undertakes by the main powers and its attitude towards Turkish integration, which appears to be on a long-term holding pattern, will have a major impact on European foreign policy towards America and the Middle East.
The likely rejection of EU membership to Turkey will assist US-Turkish ties, which is likely why Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick explained today in in Washington:
"My hope is that as Turkey looks to its own future, the connections that it has with Europe, which are very important, need to be complemented by a global perspective, and that's why I think the partnership with the United States becomes particularly valuable. The US is still a unique country in terms of its global reach."
Ms. Merkel's election would be a win for the Germans and a win for the US on multiple diplomatic fronts from US-German relations to US-EU relations and including US-Turkish relations.