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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 06:26 GMT
European press review

Wednesday's papers paint a daunting picture for Angela Merkel as she takes over from Gerhard Schroeder as German chancellor.

Most commentators argue she will have to tread a fine line both at home and abroad if she is to make her coalition government a success.

'Watershed'

Previous changes of power, says Germany's Handelsblatt, have led to clear changes of direction.

"Willy Brandt stood for a new Ostpolitik, Helmut Kohl propagated spiritual and moral regeneration, Gerhard Schroeder implemented the SPD-Green project at national level," it recalls.

But what Angela Merkel stands for, the paper suggests, is not so clear.

She has, however, often been underestimated in the past, it adds, and "that gives grounds for hope".

Merkel has won the chancellorship but not the future
Sueddeutsche Zeitung

Die Welt is another paper in positive mood.

It acknowledges that the coalition government faces a "well-nigh unmanageable task" to resolve long-standing problems, but believes Mrs Merkel is better equipped than most to answer the call.

"The country is at a historical watershed," the paper says, "because a courageous politician is setting out to seize opportunities".

But the Sueddeutsche Zeitung refuses to buy into this optimism.

"Merkel has won the chancellorship but not the future," the paper predicts. "She has been unable to generate the Christian Democrat feel-good factor."

The enemy within

Whatever their opinion of Mrs Merkel's political skills, many German papers agree that much depends on how she handles her so-called "grand coalition".

"If," says the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "the chancellor were to manage to win over the Social Democrats for a reform alliance for Germany's renewal worthy of the name, then this coalition could actually become a great one."

But the paper also warns that Mrs Merkel's reliance on the Social Democrats is her "greatest weakness".

One word - mediocrity - characterises the start of Merkel's chancellorship
Der Standard

The Frankfurter Rundschau also sees the possible lack of support from within the coalition as a factor.

"This would be a terrible burden if there was nothing else she had to carry," it says, although "in view of the problems her government faces, it is of secondary importance."

The difficulties that lie ahead are not lost on Austria's Der Standard, which notes "there is no prevailing sense of joy".

After an arduous election campaign, a narrow victory and difficult coalition negotiations, the paper says, "one word - mediocrity - characterises the start of Merkel's chancellorship".

Balancing act

Papers elsewhere seem more interested in possible shifts in foreign policy, with Mrs Merkel due to start a tour of European capitals with talks in Paris on Wednesday.

French daily Le Figaro says this visit will be watched very closely.

Merkel is an Atlanticist, close to Blairism and Bush
Le Nouvel Observateur

"Merkel doesn't play down the importance of Franco-German relations in the slightest," it maintains, "but, unlike her predecessor, she doesn't want to lend them the same 'exclusive' character."

Le Nouvel Observateur, meanwhile, believes the relationship between Berlin and Paris "remains a privileged one, although slightly dented".

"Merkel is an Atlanticist, close to Blairism and Bush," it says. "She wants to give more room to the smaller countries."

But wherever the new chancellor's allegiances may lie, Spain's El Periodico is convinced she will have her hands full.

After all, she will have to "revive the Berlin-Paris axis, snap the EU out of its paralysis, mend relations with the USA and return to European activism".

While that makes for a heavy workload, Russia's Rossiyskaya Gazeta does not expect Mrs Merkel to adopt radically different tactics.

"Pragmatism," it predicts, "will most likely be the chosen approach again."

'Instinct for power'

With so many challenges lying ahead for Mrs Merkel, the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes argues it is now up to her to show she can handle the responsibility.

"She has more than just an ordinary instinct for power. She has reached one goal and found herself facing a new one," the paper says.

"She has been elected chancellor - now she has to become one."

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.





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