Angela Merkel — the most powerful women in the world?
Story and photos by Harald Daehne in Berlin
After Brexit, the election of Donald Trump and the resignation of the French President, Europe knows only one dependable and adaptable leader — German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In office since 2005, she is respected as a rational and reliable partner in domestic and in foreign affairs.
At the same time her country has overcome all the recent economic crises and is the most stable in Europe.
Seems solid, but sunset is beginning
Merkel seems solid as a rock – but the sunset of her regency is starting.
In 2000, Merkel became leader of the conservative party CDU. Since that time she has been overly-pragmatic and only marginally ideological.
Consequently the party lost more and more of the ‘conservative’ element and some of its identity over the years , just as the Social-Democrats lost their “social” identity some years before.
That wasn’t a problem as long the CDU was winning elections. But with the the rise of a new right-wing party last year, resentment within the CDU exploded.
Even the Bavarian conservatives, a small ‘sister’ party, were fighting loudly against Merkel.
Brought up in the East
Angela was born in Hamburg in 1954. Merkel’s father, a Lutheran pastor, relocated in the same year to the communist GDR and became a member of the
Communist party there – an extraordinary step.
So Merkel grow up in East Germany as an intelligent, but quiet, adaptable and diligent young women.
Like millions of other GDR citizens, she wasn’t convinced, but came to terms with the Communist system. After her studies, she started an academic career and achieved a PhD as a physicist.
After the wall came down
With the Fall of the Wall, she realized very quickly that a new age had begun — and started by chance a new career as a politician.
Discovered and promoted by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, she became a Cabinet Minister in 1990. Then, after Kohl lost the elections in 1998, Merkel was the new strong woman in the party.
She never had an emotional relationship with power, but she could be brutal when neutralizing her opponents inside the CDU. Consequently today the party is without any successors.
Merkel as a politician always did what she had learned in Communist times. As a pastor’s daughter, she followed the Protestant work ethic to be agreeable to God.
If it’s political (and dangerous), be quiet and careful; wait and see; always being distant and never involved personally. Monitor the feelings of the populace – but never being a populist. So she has always been balancing, pragmatic and unexcited, without vanity and far away from the (western) political showmen around her. German people liked that for a long time.
But without an internal political credo, it’s difficult to find the right way in stormy times.
Merkel’s biggest political mistake wasn’t her decision to host refugees itself.
It was her communication with the public – and her hard policy against the southern European states during the Euro-crisis some months before.
To campaign against Greece was very popular in Germany. ‘Mutti’ (mummy) cared for nation’s money.
But the price was high: European solidarity. And only a few months later – without that solidarity – Merkel could only say ‘We can make it!’ But not how. Many Germans felt fear and felt deceived by her.
Now she should be the steady leader of a centrifugally inclined Europe in a world with more and more insane leaders.
But Merkel has not played such a role before. She’s a Tim Cook not a Steve Jobs.
Merkel will be re-elected again this year. There is no better alternative. But people’s belief in her is weak.
In history, many important leaders achieve a lot in foreign affairs, although their position at home is fragile. Will she make it? Time will tell.