Foreign policy issues did not play a decisive role in the German general election campaign of 2009. While Chancellor Angela Merkel conducted a decidedly presidential campaign, her main rival, SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, found it difficult to break out of his role as Merkel's partner in the Grand Coalition the two had led for four years. This was especially true with respect to issues on foreign policy, where both candidates had cooperated rather smoothly. Neither the issue of Afghanistan (despite the hotly debated Kunduz airstrike), nor the unresolved issues of the future of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty could antagonize the main political protagonists in Germany. The overwhelming foreign policy consensus among the mainstream political forces remained intact. Nevertheless, the changing international landscape and increased German responsibilities abroad will turn foreign policy into a relevant campaign issue, probably as early as 2013, when, presumably, the next Bundestag elections will be held.
Contrary to many common expectations for a Grand Coalition, Chancellor Angela Merkel's 2005-2009 CDU/CSU-SPD government produced few major policy changes. Its modest output is generally attributed to polarized competition between two co-equal, longtime rivals that blocked cooperation. Yet, interparty gridlock was less decisive than intraparty paralysis. The CDU, CSU, and SPD formed a government at the very time when each was plagued by internal divisions over programmatic identity, fueled in turn by interrelated strategic and leadership struggles. The result was caution, confusion, patchwork measures, side payments and reversals.
Angela Merkel remains arguably the most powerful politician in Europe, now in her third term as chancellor. While she enjoys popularity at home, seen as pragmatic and reliable, she faces numerous outward expectations and pressures that challenge Germany's foreign policy of restraint. Some argue that Germany does not pull its weight in foreign policy, particularly militarily, or at least is reluctant to do so. This view is not only an external one, but also is shared by Germany's leaders—both Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Joachim Gauck, among others, have expressed their desire for an increased German role in the world. Many politicians, however, do not see an advantage to focusing on foreign issues in their export-heavy economy. Other challenges, including disillusionment among Germans regarding their tenuous relationship with Russia and damaged trust between the U.S. and Germany as a result of the NSA scandal, will force Merkel to set an agenda that balances domestic concerns with her allies' expectations.