Guttenberg’s ‘Secret’ Meeting With Angela Merkel

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PostSun Nov 10, 2013 4:58 am » by Willease

November 8, 2013 • From
Germany’s rumor mill is churning. Is Guttenberg about to return to politics?


The arrival of a black bmw at the chancellery building in Berlin doesn’t normally raise eyebrows. After all, this is where Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and the most powerful politician in Europe, works. One doesn’t arrive for a meeting with Merkel on a moped. (Though I wouldn’t put it past Vladimir Putin.)

But on Monday the arrival of a black bmw at Berlin’s chancellery building did raise eyebrows—and not just ours. The Bild in Germany was the first to report on Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s visit with Angela Merkel. Since then, a number of media outlets have noted Guttenberg’s surprise meeting and speculated on what might be afoot. Is Merkel about to invite him into her government? Is Guttenberg being recruited to help out with the disintegrating U.S.-Germany relationship? Was it merely a matter of two old friends getting together for coffee?

Although we don’t know the answers to these questions, there are four noteworthy reasons this meeting could prove significant.

First, it shows that Guttenberg is no longer in the doghouse. Although he was once Germany’s most popular politician, Guttenberg, for the past 2½ years—thanks to a plagiarism scandal that forced him from office and banished him from the country—has been a political leper. German politicians have been avoiding him, at least publicly, lest their reputation be tarnished. In a way, Monday’s meeting marks the return of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg into Germany’s political fold. He did it in style too, meeting with the German chancellor herself—and at the chancellery!

Second, the meeting was unofficial and off-the-books. Even Merkel’s closest aides were kept in the dark. This is unusual for a world leader whose time is incredibly valuable and is always carefully managed by a team of minders. Bild and others reported the meeting as “secret.” But that’s hard to believe. If you really want a meeting to be secret, you meet at home or in a cabin in the forest. You don’t meet at the chancellery, rolling up in a shiny black bmw, window down, smile beaming. Merkel and Guttenberg might want the content of the meeting to be a secret—but they did not intend for the meeting itself to be secret.

Third, the meeting reportedly lasted roughly an hour. An hour with someone of Merkel’s stature is an eternity. That amount of time is usually only allotted to a fellow world leader or a statesman of high regard. For Merkel to personally carve out an entire hour from her schedule for Guttenberg reveals his importance, and the importance of whatever it is they discussed.

Fourth, the agenda of the meeting was not formally disclosed. Usually, when formal meetings take place an agenda is produced. There’s often a press conference. This wasn’t the case on Monday. Instead, a Merkel spokesman informed us that the chancellor simply wanted Guttenberg’s opinion on the nsa scandal and Edward Snowden. Other than that, we have no details about what these two talked about. There is nothing wrong with this, but it does raise questions.

The Trumpet isn’t the only one wondering what’s going on here. On Wednesday, Germany’s N-tv noted that the “almost conspiratorial circumstances provide for political speculation in the Berlin operation” (emphasis added throughout). In its report on the meeting, Die Welt noted casually at the end of its article that Merkel is still in negotiations with the csu, cdu and spd, and has yet to finalize her cabinet. The hint was clear: Is Merkel considering giving Guttenberg a post within her new government? Others believe Merkel might be thinking about recruiting Guttenberg, an experienced statesman with many friends in Washington, to manage Germany’s tempestuous relationship with America. ... 462,562090

As I explained last week, Guttenberg is a fascinating individual and someone to watch closely. His prominence is rising, and he’s emerging as a thoughtful and serious voice on German politics and international relations both in America and Germany. If you haven’t seen it already, watch this short interview with Fareed Zakaria on cnn during which Guttenberg was questioned on the impact of the nsa spying on U.S.-German relations. His point about Barack Obama damaging Merkel’s image in Germany is excellent: ... s.cnn.html

Now, we are at the level that European leaders don’t only lose faith in a partner, but also their face. So the face-losing aspect of it is [important]. Take the example of Angela Merkel. She was defending the nsa program this summer, this summer. She was publicly defending it, despite there being an election campaign. It was not very popular as you can imagine. But she was, as a committed Tran-Atlantasist, she defended the nsa program. But then to learn two or three months later that she personally was tapped, and then to learn that actually the American president knew about it already in the summer. That’s one of the moments which I would consider as being face-losing relevance.

A few days prior, Guttenberg made a similar point in an article for Project-Syndicate. In the article he explained that the damage can only be repaired if America’s president apologizes to Merkel and Germany: “In the case of the nsa scandal, an unequivocal apology by Obama is the only viable solution to leave the past behind and move forward.”

There are a lot of details we don’t know about this meeting. It’s possible this was merely a meeting between two old friends. (Guttenberg was in Merkel’s cabinet as defense minister before he retired.) But it’s hard not to wonder if something else, something more significant, is going on. Angela Merkel right at this moment is trying to manage the largest crisis in U.S.-German relations in modern times. Meanwhile, she’s fervently trying to forge an alliance with her political partners and install a new cabinet to lead Germany.

I’m not sure about you, but it’s hard for me to believe that Merkel, amid all this, merely invited Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to the chancellery for a coffee to catch up on old times.

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