Angela Merkel: Ten years as chancellor at a time of peril
On Sunday (22 Nov) Angela Merkel will be chancellor of Germany for ten years and until this year her governing style has been viewed as risk averse but for the first time, her bold move in early September to open Germany's borders to war refugees, is seen as a risk that could result in her losing power.
Ulrich Beck, professor of sociology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, coined the term Merkiavelli based on political affinity between Merkel and Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527), the Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, who is the author of 'The Prince.'
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely regarded as the uncrowned queen of Europe. If we inquire into the basis of her power we become aware of one characteristic feature of her effectiveness: her characteristic quality is a tactical adroitness that might well be deemed Machiavellian. The Prince, Machiavelli believed, must only stick to what he said yesterday if it brings him positive advantages today. Transferring this to the present situation would produce the maxim: today you can do the opposite of what you proclaimed yesterday, if it improves your own chances in the next election.
Prof Beck outlined here in 2012 that the model is based on four mutually complementary components.
Last week the Economist called the German leader "the indispensable European" and noted:
Having been governed by her for ten years—she first took office on November 22nd 2005—Germans thought they knew Mrs Merkel. Whereas her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, was dubbed the “basta chancellor” for his brash assertiveness, Mrs Merkel was valued, if often also criticised, for her caution. Her governing was a “politics of small steps”, lampooned for endless hedging and “leading from behind”. As recently as this summer, the jury that chooses Germany’s “youth word of the year” from a list of zeitgeisty neologisms was expected to plump for merkeln (“to merkel”), meaning to delay and obfuscate so as to avoid big decisions.
The newspaper said before Friday's terrorists attacks in Paris, that while support for the conservative CDU-CSU (the Bavarian-based sister party) union parties has fallen, averaging the most recent opinion polls shows "the union parties with 37.5% of the electorate, the SPD with 25%. The backlash, while real, is confined to a minority. A poll of seven European countries by IFOP, an institute in Paris, shows that German support for the idea that sheltering refugees from war and persecution is right in principle is dropping. But it is still high both in absolute terms and in comparison to attitudes in other countries. In September 79% of Germans agreed with the proposition; in October 75% did. Less than half the British, Dutch or French feel the same way. The differences are starkest among conservatives: 72% of Union supporters in Germany favour the principle of asylum; only 29% of Republicans in France do so."
In September Germany's unemployment rate was at 4.5% — the lowest in Europe — and the government expects to post a budget surplus.
Werner Faymann, Austrian chancellor, called Thursday for more intensive border checks of migrants in the wake of the Paris attacks, but he said the closing of borders is out of the question.
Speaking on Germany’s ARD television ahead of a meeting with Angela Merkel, Faymann said to close the borders “would be the end of Schengen and the European idea,” referring to the so-called Schengen Zone of passport-free travel.
Most important, he said, is to work to end the violence in Syria that is causing so many people to flee, as well as improving refugees’ situations in Turkey and registration measures in Greece. He said “we cannot solve the problem at either the Austrian or the German borders.”
Later the German chancellor stressed that other EU countries, especially those on the bloc's external border, must do more to stem the flow of migrants.
"The hotspots need to be put quickly into place in Italy and Greece," she said, referring to registration centres intended to screen incoming migrants before they enter the EU.
In 2016 when the number of asylum seekers who arrived in Germany in 2015 are tallied, the total is likely to be above 1m.
German states and local governments are under pressure to cope with the influx of refugees. On Thursday in Washington DC, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to ban war refugees from entering the United States.
A serious terrorist outrage in Germany would intensify pressure on the chancellor.
The German The Local.de news service notes that Jürgen Habermas, a fierce critic of Merkel's unyielding policy in the Eurozone debt crisis, can barely contain his praise for her principled stance on refugees.
"Who could have expected that from Frau Merkel?" he wrote.
Paul Nolte, a historian, said Merkel's support remained deeper and wider than often portrayed in the media.
"She has opponents in her own camp but she has also mobilised a lot of support, particularly in leftist civil society," he said. "It was very clever, really — she has a mandate from civil society for this policy and is as a result not as easy to topple."
Robert Bosch, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted in the FT last month:
The nation needs large-scale immigration to help secure its welfare state and its economy. But many German families remember having been refugees themselves. After 1945, 13m deportees from east Europe resettled in West Germany; 3m came from the Soviet Union in the 1990s. On 3 October 1990, 16m East Germans woke up in a new country. These were big challenges. If there is one lesson from all these experiences, it is that history is not destiny, and identity is a matter of choice. In the refugees who choose Europe, and Germany, Germans recognise themselves...Ms Merkel seems determined to stand her ground. To make her experiment work, she will have to make difficult compromises. Building walls on the border is not an option, but there will be holding areas and repatriation for migrants from countries held to be safe...Failure could mean that Ms Merkel finds she has presided over the destruction of the European project. But if she succeeds, she might yet become a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize that rightly eluded her this year.
Angela Dorothea Kasner was born in Hamburg on 17 July 1954. A few weeks later her family moved to Quitzow in Brandenburg in communist-run East Germany and three years after that to Templin. Her father was a Protestant pastor.
Angela got high grades in mathematics and Russian and later earned a PhD in quantum physics. She was elected to the Bundestag in the first post reunification federal election in November 1990 and she was appointed federal environment minister in 1994.
In November 1998 following the defeat of the governing parties in the general election, Angela Merkel was elected secretary general of her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, CDU).
Chancellor Merkel in China, 4 Nov, 2015. Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, is on her left.
Helmut Kohl, the former chancellor, who had promoted the East German scientist, became the focus of a political donations scandal and in Dec 1999, Merkel in an op-ed for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper shocked German politics when she urged the party to move on "without its old war horse" Kohl.
A month later, Wolfgang Schäuble, Kohl's successor as CDU leader and the current German finance minister, was forced to resign when he admitted accepting a cash donation of DM100,000 Deutsche Marks from Karlheinz Schreiber, an arms lobbyist.
The 45-year old Angela Merkel became leader of the CDU.
Angela Merkel was married to Ulrich Merkel in 1978-1982. She married Joachim Sauer, a professor of chemistry in 1998.
Pic on top: an iconic image of Angela Merkel in her first election campaign, visiting a fisherman's hut in Lobbe on the island of Rügen, in the Baltic Sea, off the north-east German coast, 2 Nov, 1990 | Credit: ullstein bild