Global Economics

Merkel's Plan for Saving the G8 Summit


A showdown between the German chancellor and President Bush over climate change looms for the upcoming international forum

US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are competing for control of the climate change agenda at the G-8 summit. The minutes of a secret meeting to plan the German government's strategy, obtained by DER SPIEGEL, reveal the hard line Merkel plans to take.

Sunday is an ideal day for quiet, behind-the-scenes politics in Berlin. With only a handful of tourists roaming through the government district, politicians can rest assured that they are unlikely to encounter unwanted cameras and microphones. Schedules are clear, leaving more time for difficult deliberations.

May 20 was a Sunday, which already qualified it as a good day for a meeting at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel planned to iron out the most important details of an appearance she herself views as the most important of her chancellorship. She had invited a small group of eight people to the Chancellery that afternoon. They had spent the last few months preparing for the G-8 summit (more...) in the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm, which the German chancellor will host.

The group included German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the chancellor's senior summit advisor Bernd Pfaffenbach -- known as Merkel's "sherpa" in the G-8 jargon -- her experts on the economy and foreign policy, office manager and all-round advisor Beate Baumann, and the busy deputy government spokesman Thomas Steg, who also served under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and whose tactical skills both Merkel and Baumann value.

The main topic at the meeting was the upcoming summit, of course. But the longer the attendees discussed the event, the more obvious it became that Germany was on a course of conflict with the leading Western power. The five-page minutes of the meeting, which have been obtained by DER SPIEGEL, read in part like the script of an unplanned but not entirely disagreeable provocation.

From the beginning, Merkel and the group had no illusions about the US president's intentions. The chancellor's senior economic advisor, Jens Weidmann, had done his own research, and he presented his conclusions to the group. The minutes read: "Dr. Weidmann reported that the US president's advisor on climate issues is currently traveling through a number of emerging nations, the goal being to intervene against Germany's ambitious G-8 agenda on the subject of climate protection."

The chancellor was combative when consulting with her own people. Merkel refuses to allow her image as a vocal advocate of climate protection to be diminished, not even by George W. Bush. According to the minutes, Merkel insisted that her government take a tough stance and not budge a millimeter at preparatory meetings at the expert level.

"It is clear to her that the Sherpa meeting in Heiligendamm is doomed to be a failure when it comes to this issue," read the minutes. "It is necessary to clearly spell out the differences."

Cooperation with the Russians -- against Bush -- is another option, the document quotes Merkel as saying. Merkel discusses a confidential meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Samara, where Putin apparently indicated that there could be some movement on his part.

The minutes, which are labeled "Classified -- For Official Use Only," also reveal that the German government plans to increase public awareness of the climate issue. Climate change, the document reads is "easier to communicate" than all other topics relating to financial markets and world trade talks. With a view to the German public, the document states: "A G-8 reduction goal for greenhouse gases would undoubtedly be a great success."

The meeting's participants agreed that German voters, from Rügen on the Baltic Sea to Passau in the foothills of the Alps, are the target audience for what Steg called "multi-level communication." "It is important," the document states, that "the national perspective of the G-8 be seen as being in the foreground" -- a position which stands in stark contrast to the internationalist declarations Merkel has been issuing in public.

The group itself could hardly have been surprised when Bush publicly took a position last Thursday that directly contradicts Merkel's. The US president, who, in his conversations with the chancellor, criticized her several times for her stubbornness and, in particular, found fault with the decisions reached at the European Union climate summit, is trying to portray himself as the great realist. Fighting climate change is all well and good, says Bush, but not at the cost of growth and prosperity.

The US president announced his own climate protection initiative (more...) just a few days before the G-8 summit was set to begin. Part of his plan is to launch a series of meetings with the major industrialized nations and the countries with the strongest economic growth. Bush made it clear that the United States would expect to assume the leadership in this process, a role the Chancellery had in fact already claimed for Merkel.

Anxious as the powerful are to avoid giving this impression, a showdown seems inevitable in Heiligendamm. The smiling photo ops in beautiful, natural surroundings will likely stand in sharp contrast to what happens behind the scenes: America against Germany, a climate change deadbeat against a courageous contender for a better world -- he against she.

Part 2: Stealing the Limelight

Last week Bush ignited a downright blitz of ideas, the goal being to steal the show from Merkel. On Wednesday, to the Germans' surprise, he asked the US Congress to double its support for AIDS programs to $30 billion over the next five years (more...). The funds, intended primarily for Africa, made the €750 million ($1.01 billion) increase in Merkel's AIDS budget seem puny by comparison.

On the same day, his administration announced that when Russian President Putin visits the United States in early July, he will travel to Bush's parents' summer home in Kennebunkport for one-on-one talks. Diplomats in Berlin believe that Kosovo will likely be the main issue on the Bush-Putin agenda, essentially eliminating the prospects of a serious discussion of the troubled province in Heiligendamm.

Then Bush's biggest coup arrived the next evening, when he announced his government's initiative to reduce levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Nevertheless, Merkel has no intention to be robbed of the opportunity to shine before the local and global public in Heiligendamm as an energetic champion of a better world.

The summit is a favorable opportunity for Merkel to make a good impression. Every eight years a German chancellor has the chance to greet a group of heads of state who may only represent 13 percent of the world's population but are responsible for about 60 percent of its gross domestic product. A head of state has to be in office for a long time -- or simply be lucky -- to chair the G-8 summit as head of state.

A Summit of Superlatives

It is already clear that this meeting will be a summit of superlatives. In addition to the lively disputes deep in the interior of the conference hotel, the action outside will be equally exciting.

Heiligendamm will see the biggest contingent of police ever assembled in Germany. Sixteen thousand police officers from all across Germany will protect more than 2,000 delegation attendees and more than 4,000 journalists who will arrive at this small Baltic Sea resort town between Wednesday and Friday. Meanwhile German and American warships will patrol the coastline.

A 12-kilometer-long metal fence has been constructed around the summit location -- the longest protective barrier built in Germany since the construction of the Berlin Wall. The security precautions also include a 3.5-kilometer steel net in the waters off Heiligendamm, which is meant to protect against possible attacks from the sea. In the end, the summit will have cost €100 million ($134.8 million) -- also a record.

In the middle of last week, a few newspapers began counting down the days until the summit begins ("Six more days until the summit meeting in Heiligendamm" wrote one paper) -- as if Germans could hardly wait for the summit to begin. This reflects how high expectations apparently are.

There is a lot at stake for the chancellor: her reputation as G-8 chair as well as Germany's image in the world, but also Merkel's image as a politician who gets things done. Merkel has promised that the summit will not be about empty words, but will instead examine solutions for the world's biggest challenges.

The summit will address aid for Africa, more money for the fight against AIDS, protection of intellectual property, more transparent financial markets and, of course, climate change, Merkel's new hobbyhorse.

After the chancellor announced at the last EU summit in Brussels a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 20 percent by 2020 compared to 1990 levels, she now wants to see a world-wide commitment made: Global temperatures should not increase by any more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050. According to scientists, this ambitious goal will only be met if CO2 emissions are halved in the next few decades.

Merkel's way of thinking is different from Bush's, and is very German. She wants the summit to succeed in weakening two preconceptions: her supposed thralldom to the United States is a thorn in her side, as is the supposed lack of environmental commitment on the part of Germany's conservatives. In election campaigns, both have proven problematic, since the Germans clearly love the environment and currently have a deep mistrust of the Americans.

Bush doesn't think much of Merkel's proposed concrete emissions caps. At present, the US is skeptical of any move that would commit industrial nations to binding climate goals.

Recently, the Americans returned a draft version of the final summit document on global warming, which had been prepared by the Germans, with multiple deletions and comments. On one page it said: "The US still has serious, fundamental concerns about this draft statement." Another sentence read: "The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses 'multiple red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to."

Even before this, tensions between to the two countries over the climate were already running high. A few weeks earlier, at a meeting of G-8 environmental ministers in Potsdam, Germany's Environment Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, asked his American guests if they would consider financially supporting rainforest protection projects. His American counterpart answered coolly: "I'm not the treasury secretary."

Part 3: Poles Apart

The American president and his administration have a fundamentally different approach to the issue than Merkel. While Merkel insists on clear climate protection targets set by politicians, around which industry and consumers must orient themselves, Bush wants voluntary measures put into place. Fully in the tradition of American-style, laissez-faire capitalism, his administration feels that companies and consumers should decide for themselves what to do about climate protection. Regulatory incursions by government are considered harmful.

Besides this different basic understanding by the Bush administration of the role of politics and policy, there are above all worries about the growth potential of the US economy should such binding rules be put in place. By no means do the Americans want to see strict climate goals put their companies at a disadvantage against up-and-coming firms from China and India, countries which might profess a commitment to climate protection, but do little about it.

The US government would rather let the market solve the problem. For months, the Bush administration has been pumping millions into the development of new technologies to fight global warming, with the aim of making climate protection a massive moneymaker for US companies. The goal is to make American environmental technology the global market leader in a few years. Ambitious programs for the development of bio-energy, solar facilities and CO2-free power plants have been launched.

In the German government, this development in the US has been followed for some time with a mix of mistrust and admiration. Government officials think it quite possible that the Americans are playing for time with their blockade stance regarding climate protection.

"They will agree to clear climate protection targets when they become global leaders in climate protection technology," said one member of the government. In this sense, the fight for the climate is also a fight for market share.

Merkel's advisors now fear that the Americans might try to focus on separate, and to them, acceptable agreements with environmental bad guys such as China and India -- in other words, climate protection writ small.

It's with excitement and a certain amount of schadenfreude that the Social Democratic members of Merkel's cabinet watch as the chancellor suddenly finds herself in a new skirmish: Merkel has to defend herself against the Americans' initiative. The word in the Social Democratic part of the government is that the issue is going to be "a tough nut for the chancellery to crack."

But Merkel appears ready to do just that. She made clear to her negotiators that a formal agreement regarding the environment should be reached at Heiligendamm that affirms common ground even where there are major differences. As rotating president of the European Union, she feels herself obliged to defend the 2-degree Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) target. She also wants to reach agreement in the context of the United Nations on a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012.

"The 2 degrees are non-negotiable as far as I am concerned," the chancellor said in an interview with DER SPIEGEL (more...).

She has instructed her sherpa not to enter into any deals, and Pfaffenbach's maneuvering room is close to zero. He only needs to glance at the minutes of the strategy meeting, where the message is more than clear: "For the sherpa, the following negotiation guidelines are set: The chancellor asks that all the quantitative goals be adhered to until the summit: in other words, the two-degree target, 50 percent reduction of CO2 by 2050 based on 1990 levels, the across-the-board and the sector-specific energy efficiency goals."

But, as summit host, Merkel cannot openly sound the alarm. She has to use stealth, cunning and charm to get her way. Heiligendamm should in no way become a synonym for squabbling and exasperation. If need be, "formulations such as 'those of us' must be used in the climate protection section of the summit declaration," according to the minutes of the preparatory meeting. Such language would draw a clear separating line among the participants.

Because there will be no final communiqué, rather a final declaration called a Chairman's Summary delivered by Merkel herself, she will have a chance to put her own mark on it. The chancellor is determined to use this opportunity for interpretational wiggle room. She can spruce up those parts that were agreed upon and sell the whole thing as a triumph of sorts.

Publicly, the looming conflict with the Americans is in no way to be ratcheted up -- softening is the order the day. "The federal chancellor asks that over the next few weeks, expectations regarding the subject of climate protection and energy efficiency be played down in public," reads one sentence in the minutes of Merkel's pre-summit meeting.

But internally, Merkel's advisors have told her that reaching a concrete CO2 reduction goal is the decisive yardstick. According to the meeting minutes, the chancellor's office manager openly expressed during the secret meeting just what her boss fears: "Baumann emphasized that the German public expects a success regarding climate protection at the G-8 summit. She fears that the summit could be seen as a failure if no convincing results are reached on climate protection."

In view of this much-feared mud-slinging match over the environment, Merkel has already changed the subject to Africa in her public communication. The poverty-wracked continent is to get additional aid money, a move that is controversial among the G-8 partners.

For some time now, the chancellor has been talking with Africa activists. She met with Bono, the singer from the rock bank U2 and one of the key figures in the anti-globalization movement. "She is a wise woman," he said after their meeting. The pop singer and political activist Bob Geldof also had some face time with Merkel, where the chancellor told him about the €750 million in additional Africa aid that Germany wants to provide in 2008.

But Merkel's summit script illustrates the point that in politics, behind every good deed there's usually a self-interested motive. The additional money for Africa is also meant to inspire Geldof to help protect the German government from bitter animosity from other quarters. According to the meeting minutes, Geldof has another role to play in addition to Africa advocate: "Bob Geldof assures her that if such a step were taken, he would personally do what he could to lobby critics like (German pop star) Herbert Grönemeyer to tone down their criticism."

Unfortunately, George W. Bush cannot be bought so cheaply.

By SPIEGEL Staff: Ralf Beste, Jan Fleischhauer, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Roland Nelles, Christian Reiermann und Gabor Steingart


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