By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
The new chancellor takes charge
The new German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping onto the European stage this week with visits to Paris, Brussels and London to try to re-establish a new German voice in European politics.
Next week she takes in Warsaw and in subsequent visits to Washington and Moscow, she will move on to the world scene.
Yet what kind of German voice it will be is unclear. Broadly, Chancellor Merkel is expected to be less close to France, closer (perhaps) to the UK, closer to smaller EU states and less close to Russia.
And certainly she wants to improve ties with Washington. Iraq forced a break in the traditional links with the United States, through which German foreign policy has thrived since World War II.
You can see her priorities from the places she is visiting, and it is all going to be a difficult balancing act, especially as she is tied to a coalition with a party which was against the Iraq war and which earned the disfavour of the Bush administration.
As the Rolling Stones said: "Angie, Angie, where will it lead us from here?"
One answer comes from Ulrike Guerot, Senior Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund. She thinks that Angela Merkel will try to put Germany back where it has traditionally been between the US and Europe.
Less of this: Chirac and Schroeder backslapping...
"She will reconnect with the most important parameter of [Christian Democrat] foreign policy, which is that a strong transatlantic tie and a strong Europe are two sides of the same coin. She will, thus, rebalance the relationship between Paris and Washington and put Germany back right in the middle as it has always been," wrote Ms Guerot recently.
The old Franco-German engine is not firing on all cylinders these days and the EU has got too big to be powered by an engine from an earlier era.
So despite the fact that Paris is her first port of call, nobody is expecting a buddy-buddy relationship between this sober daughter of an East German Protestant pastor and the flamboyant Jacques Chirac, who has troubles of his own.
Her visit to London opens up a channel to Tony Blair who had virtually closed down communications with Gerhard Schroeder. So relations are bound to improve.
... and more of this: Merkel with President Bush in February
That does not make the UK and Germany into an alliance that could change Europe. Ms Merkel is, for example, against the admission of Turkey to the EU, something Britain strongly favours, though this issue will not in fact be ready for a decision this side of about 10 years.
The new German government does have an opportunity to make its mark on an EU in the doldrums if it could act as a broker in the current impasse over the budgetary framework from 2007 onwards.
If Chancellor Merkel could persuade the French to make some move on agriculture, thereby forcing a British compromise on its rebate, she could emerge as a politician of substance. But she would have to risk French wrath first. Germany is always loath to do that.
It is worth looking at one key figure in her foreign policy team to get clues as to what might come next. He is Christoph Heusgen, who was director of the European Union's foreign policy planning unit under Javier Solana before Ms Merkel plucked him back to Berlin to be her chief foreign policy adviser.
Since the new German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was once chief of staff to the previous chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mr Heusgen is expected to have the greater influence by having the chancellor's ear.
Mr Heusgen is seen in Brussels as a firm advocate of the EU acting together in foreign policy.
He himself has dealt with many of the crises on which the EU has worked together - Iran and Sudan to name two.
It will be music to British ears that he favours a possible military role in crises around the world.
"We need to be able to, when it is necessary, involve ourselves militarily," he has said.
Smaller EU nations, especially those in the so-called "New Europe" such as Poland, also like the sound of his comments about involving them. "Germany can accomplish a lot when it includes the others," he told Die Zeit.
The US and Russia
Ms Merkel supported the war in Iraq and even went to Washington to say so just before it started. That will be a plus in her relationship with President Bush. She will not, however, send German troops to Iraq (nor will anyone else these days) though she might agree to training more Iraqi security forces.
Is she a new "Iron Lady"? No doubt the Americans will want to test her 'metal' as soon as possible.
Again, she will try to get German foreign policy back to where it has usually been.
The document outlining the programme for her coalition government says this: "It is essential to have a relationship of trust between the United States and a self-confident Europe that sees itself not as a counterweight but as a partner."
That contrasts with the French concept of the multi-polar world in which Europe does act as a counterweight to the United States.
And if ties to the US improve, ties to Russia and President Putin are likely to be loosened.
For many in Europe, and that probably includes the new chancellor, Russia has been a disappointment and is seen as retiring behind a kind of authoritarian barrier. The best that can be hoped for in the immediate future is the management of relations, not their deep development.