Angela Merkel, the quiet and strong German Chancellor began her time in politics on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and unlike Hillary Clinton she has never attempted to be an inspirational figure to women, pioneering feminist Rita Susmuth would remark how “She had big problems with the feminist movement; she believed she was already emancipated by her studies.” Instead, Merkel has established herself as the consensus “most powerful woman in the world,” through a series of shrewd policy decisions and an unflappable demeanor.
Early life and career
Merkel was born the daughter of a Lutheran minister with strong anti-capitalist views and it was there that she began to develop a deep curiosity about life in the west. Merkel’s father was passionate about education and he took special measures to his ensure his children were well educated. Merkel excelled in school and was top in her class in all but “gym and singing.” Prior to politics Merkel would work as a chemical physicist in East Germany.
After the Berlin Wall came down Merkel helped campaign for Lothar de Maizière as he became the only democratically elected Prime Minister in the GDR in 1990. However, it came to light that Maizière had been a Stasi informant he resigned from office and Merkel joined the Christian Democratic Union.
Standing out in the crowd
As a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Merkel was a stark contrast against the party ideal of a woman, as she was divorced and had no children and was currently cohabitating with another scientist. This flew in the face of the primarily Catholic membership of the party, who felt that women should not be engaging in such behaviors.
Despite being an outlier in her party Merkel gained a strong position and sought to fill the gaps in her education due to having grown up entirely in East Germany. She gained Helmut Kohl, Germany’s chancellor at the time, as a mentor within the party and in 1991 he appointed her the minister of youth and women, describing her search for knowledge as “unrelenting in her search for information about subjects she knew were important for her and her future.” Kohl saw Merkel as a way to diversify his cabinet and add a woman to his camp, but Merkel used this post to spring board into higher offices. When in 1998 the CDU became mired in scandals in the top leadership, and by the beginning 2000 Merkel had become the leader of the CDU and was poised to begin her ascendancy to the top of the German government.
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (L) speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and French President Francois Hollande at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 07 October 2015. EPA/PATRICK SEEGER
Time as Chancellor
Merkel was elected as Germany’s Chancellor in 2005 and is now one of the longest tenured leaders in Europe today. While in office she has shown herself to be remarkably responsive to public opinion, using secret public opinion polls to guide her policy decisions. One example of this was committing to eliminating Germany’s use of nuclear power by 2022 when it came to light how concerned German citizens were at the prospect of a nuclear reactor melting down like in Japan 2011.
Merkel has also found herself with an increasingly dominant role in Europe, as President Obama has been more inclined to encourage German leadership in Europe rather than American leadership, and because of this Merkel has found herself as the conduit between Obama and Putin. Spending long hours on the phone with both men, particularly in relation to the crisis in Crimea.
Merkel’s strong stance on Greece and the other Southern European countries has won her enormous popularity back in Germany and she has been steadfast in her goal of keeping the Euro strong regardless of pressure from other financial markets. Domestically, Merkel adroitly kept the German economy afloat through the global recession and has helped mold Germany into one of the top exporters in the world.
Merkel is often criticised for leading Europe in a style that is more nationalist than European. Despite these worries, which were amplified during the political jousting of the Greek crisis, her dealing with the refugee crisis is showing a different face. It remains to be seen what face of the European Union Merkel will push towards.