Against the backdrop of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and an undercurrent of Eurosceptic fringe parties across Europe, a renewed force has emerged on the continent's foreign policy scene: Franco-German cooperation. In the words of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a January 21 meeting at the French foreign ministry, "Germany and France working side by side will strengthen European foreign policy. When Germany and France pull in the same direction, Europe moves forward."
The renewed vigor of both German foreign policy and cooperation with France is the result of two changes in the ministerial composition of the new coalition government that took power in Berlin just over a month ago. First, Steinmeier, who had been foreign minister under Merkel's first government from 2005-09 reassumed leadership of that ministry. Second, a political superstar and powerhouse, Ursula von der Leyen, became the first woman to head the German defense ministry. Steinmeier replaced Guido Westerwelle, who is widely considered to have been the weakest German foreign minister in the history of the Federal Republic. Steinmeier, who had been SPD candidate for chancellor in 2008, has no future political aspirations, but he is widely respected diplomatic heavyweight and not one content to serve out his time attending state funerals and cutting ribbons.
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