After his Social Democrats scored their worst-ever result in European elections on Sunday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier might have thought things couldn’t get much worse. But then the man who hopes to beat German Chancellor Angela Merkel in September’s federal election sat down for a late night television talk show. During the one-hour broadcast, a tense-looking Steinmeier tried to answer the growing number of critics who say he lacks the charisma for the top job — but to many, he only ended up confirming that view.
Global News Journal
It’s not quite as bad as it was back in 2003 when Gerhard Schroeder publicly chastised George W. Bush for invading Iraq and Condi Rice introduced a new policy in the White House called “ignore Germany” (France was to be punished and Russia forgiven for their opposition to the war).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her would-be allies, the opposition Free Democrats, did not waste any time putting their spin on the re-election of President Horst Koehler on Saturday – a razor-thin victory for the conservatives over the rival candidate put up by their coalition partners, the Social Democrats, in a vote four months before the parliamentary election.
A debate about whether Communist East Germany was an “Unrechtsstaat” (“unjust state”) or merely not a “Rechtsstaat” (“state based on the rule of law”) has been dividing the German political class for months — and it now has spilled onto the front pages this week as the reunited country celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Barely noticed, the United States sent a top diplomat to Europe this week to seek help on an important commitment by President Barack Obama — to close the Guantanamo Bay prison.
The trip by veteran envoy Dan Fried to Brussels and Prague is part of efforts to persuade European states to take in some of the 241 remaining detainees at the prison, synonomous for many with rights abuses in the “war on terror” under U.S. President George W. Bush.
Europe has long called for the jail to be shut down, but only a few countries — such as France, Portugal and Albania — have volunteered to resettle any inmates from third countries such as Afghanistan or China.
Time is steadily running out if Obama is to achieve his goal of clearing and closing the prison by next January. A perceived lack of European help could sour the much-vaunted new start in transatlantic ties which both sides say they want.
But many European officials are asking why they should help the United States out of a hole it dug itself into.
The main problem does not involve the small number of so-called high-value terror suspects in the camp — they will remain in detention and Washington does not seriously expect anyone to come forward and take them off its hands.
Nor does it involve the 17 detainees who have already been cleared for release. The really hot issue is the fate of the remaining detainees who are not high risk but have not been given the full all-clear.
European officials fear the affair could turn into a legal and political nightmare. Who will take which detainees? Given that much of Europe is now border-free, how will one country reassure its neighbours if it agrees to resettle inmates? And doesn’t the fact that European states have different national policies on surveillance and detention pose extra problems?
Worse still, the political fall-out could be devastating. If , for example, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner carried out an attack in Germany just before an election this year, how would Chancellor Angela Merkel explain it to voters?
It took only a few disarmingly pointed questions from four 7th grade Berlin students to get German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck to loosen up and deviate from the usual stock answers he – and fellow political leaders – serve up.