Monday, Apr. 26, 2004

Joschka Fischer

He left high school without passing exams and shunned university, but Joschka Fischer, Germany's Foreign Minister and a leader of its Green Party, has become one of the leading political thinkers in Europe. In the 1980s he convinced his party that it could not change the world unless it became more pragmatic and therefore electable. He has helped modernize German thinking on the use of force: without his personal intervention, the Bundestag would have voted to support neither NATO action against Serbia in 1999 nor the deployment of German troops to Afghanistan two years later. And his speech at Berlin's Humboldt University four years ago triggered a major debate on how closely the countries of the European Union should be integrated.

Despite his leftist past — as a young man, he once spent seven weeks in jail and took part in street fights against the Frankfurt police — Fischer did not echo Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's anti-American rhetoric during the 2002 elections. "He understands the importance of U.S. leadership in the world and wants to channel it in the right direction," says Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution. Unlike some other Europeans, says Gordon, "Fischer understands Israel's security dilemmas and the importance of a European commitment to Israeli security." He is thought to covet the position of E.U. Foreign Minister, which will be established when a draft European constitution is ratified. Europe would be lucky to have so thoughtful a spokesman.

Grant is the Director of the Center for European Reform in London