Germany: a tale of two foreign ministers
“Self-confident”, “smart” and “rhetorically brilliant” — just some of the adjectives the media have lavished upon Germany’s favourite politician as he has covered thousands of miles traversing the globe on his country’s behalf since Chancellor Angela Merkel’s new centre-right administration took office late last month.
But Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is not in charge of foreign affairs — a position usually associated with voter popularity. He is defence minister.
Already nicknamed “the other foreign minister“, the 37-year-old Guttenberg, a conservative former economy minister who cut his teeth on foreign policy, has won praise for his fluency in English, his directness and his ability to outshine more powerful counterparts on the international stage.
Watching the aristocratic AC/DC fan from the sidelines has been the new foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, whom newspapers have mocked for adopting a cautious, defensive approach that critics say is more redolent of, well, a German defence minister.
In fact, Westerwelle, 47, has already travelled thousands of miles further than his predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier over the same period. By the time the first month in office has passed he will have journeyed to some 15 states, including Israel, Afghanistan and the United States. Steinmeier managed only 10 and did not get beyond Europe in that time, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Germany might be the winner if its diplomatic duel helps it towards a more assertive foreign policy — something it has struggled to achieve in the long shadow of the Nazis.
But it could also find itself giving mixed messages to the outside world, to say nothing of potential tensions within the new coalition. Guttenberg belongs to the Bavarian CSU and Westerwelle heads the pro-business FDP — parties that have clashed on a range of policies in the past.
PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (R) chats with Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg during a session of the German lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, November 11, 2009. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz