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The Monitor's View

Merkel state visit: Germany and its leadership deficit

Obama welcomes Chancellor Merkel on the first state visit of a European leader during his term. But tensions challenge the 'indispensable' alliance between the US and Germany.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / June 7, 2011

As President Obama pursues his goal of sharing America’s global burdens and leadership, who among the European allies could help him most? Could it be Germany’s Angela Merkel?

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stepped up to the plate on Libya, participating heavily in NATO’s no-fly zone there. But that’s Africa, a French priority. On other issues, Paris can often be mercurial.

In London last month, Mr. Obama had the honor of sleeping at Buckingham Palace and speaking at Westminster Hall during a state visit. That underscores the historic “special relationship” between Britain and the United States.

But while the British are tried-and-true military allies and see themselves as a global player, they are not Europe’s leader. They don’t even share the euro currency, whose ups and downs can profoundly affect the US economy.

Germany, however, is Europe’s largest economy – rebounding strongly from recession – and the continent’s most populous country (after Russia). It’s an export powerhouse, second only to China. It embodies the merging of “new and old” Europe through its own reunification more than 20 years ago.

And so today, Obama acknowledged that weight by welcoming Chancellor Merkel with trumpets blaring in a state visit, the first for any European leader during his term. Tonight he will present her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

But the ceremonies hint more at Germany’s potential as a joint leader with America than the reality. The warm welcome masked tensions between the two.


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