All Eyes on Germany's New Chancellor Angela Merkel

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All Eyes on Germany's New Chancellor Angela Merkel

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One item in today's news caught my interest. It seems that the American military is ramping up its special forces to 65,000 soldiers to fight terrorists in the remote locations of the world. The report also said that Europe's urban areas can expect to be targets for terrorists, and retrained special forces would be required to combat the enemy there as well.

When Europe's cities are hit by terrorist squads, you will see Europe react in ways not seen in recent years. This is not to say that American military planners are preparing for American forces to deploy to Paris, Brussels or Berlin. Serious watchers understand the threat to Europe is growing, and we should expect more attacks there. Only a few days ago a high threat alert was focused on the tunnel linking Great Britain with France. The "Chunnel" would be an obvious target for a terrorist bombing. Though nothing happened this weekend, it remains a major target. The terrorist threat is only one reason we should be observing Europe over the coming months.

The European Union expands to 27 countries on January 1 with the addition of Romania and Bulgaria. At the same time Germany will chair the European Union Council, presiding over the EU's 27 member states for six months. In addition, Berlin will assume the presidency of the G8 organization of the largest industrial powers.

All eyes will be on German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her peers have called her "a visionary of Europe," and some European leaders talk openly of "Germany's ability to lead Europe." In a world full of conflict, Berlin could find itself focusing more and more on world hot spots, thus being drawn further into the search for lasting solutions. Here is what Der Speigel says:

Diplomats circling the globe today come across a frightening number of conflict zones that Berlin must now deal with: from the Balkans, Afghanistan and Russia, to Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, even as far afield as Sudan and Congo. Two hotspots of particular worry are the Middle East and the Serbian province of Kosovo. The chancellor's advisor Christoph Heusgen has also identified events in Israel as "a focal point for European foreign policy." Heusgen says that, at the very latest, this focus became intensified by the "increased physical engagement on the ground" that has come with the deployment of international peacekeeping troops to southern Lebanon, where German Navy ships patrol the coast to prevent weapons deliveries to Hezbollah.

Another big ticket item for Chancellor Merkel will be efforts to revive the stalled European constitution. Voters in France rejected the document in May 2005 and not much has been done since. In fact some polls show there is less enthusiasm for the EU project than before. A recent study by the European Commission shows only 33 percent of Europeans feel the project is on the right track.

Nevertheless the first six months of 2007 will see considerable activity toward restarting the efforts to streamline the EU's decison-making process embodied in the proposed constitution. Angela Merkel will lead that discussion. What will transpire will be interesting to watch. We don't look for the entire European project to be scrapped, as too much work over the past 50 years has been done to build what we now see.

The next three months may give us a sign of what Chancellor Merkel can accomplish in her time in the driver's seat. The same Der Speigel article says:

...Merkel will conduct face-to-face meetings with her 26 fellow European leaders to find common ground in order to get the constitution back on track. Meetings will also be set up with potential French presidential candidates—discreetly, of course, as no one wants to insult Chirac. In this way, says one advisor, Merkel is trying to work out where the "absolute red line" on the constitution is. To all intents and purposes this group of people would take the scissors to the draft constitution until it is acceptable to all.

On March 25 Berlin will host a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the agreement that gave birth to the post World War II European project. Festivities will highlight not only Europe but Germany's role as a leading, if not the leading, member of the union. A "Berlin declaration" will be issued by Merkel, and it is logical she will want to have something of substance to say.

In one form or another, Europe will move forward, and it will play an increased diplomatic and political role on the world stage. It is inevitable despite the many signs that cause one to question its role in world affairs. Europe will play a key role in the 21st century, and we need to pay attention to Europe. Events taking shape in Asia, the Middle East and America will propel it into a position much different from what we see today.

Keep watching.