The world’s most powerful woman faces poll test

‘Together’: Will her quiet humour and steel win Angela Merkel a third term? © Getty Images

Facing a general election on Sunday, commentators expect Angela Merkel to remain in post as ‘Queen of the EU’. Will she increasingly lead the West?

Germany’s first female head of government is what her compatriots call a Machtfrau – a woman of power. She rose to the top in the masculine world of politics after an early career as a scientist, and interviewers describe her as an intriguing mix of quiet humour and steel.

When the voters in Europe’s largest economy go to the polls on Sunday, they will be deciding whether to confirm her as Chancellor, and therefore as the world’s most senior female politician. Some have dubbed her ‘Queen of the EU’.

Under the German voting system, the party which Merkel leads, the centre-right Christian Democrats, may not win an outright majority. But if she can form another coalition she will remain in charge of the government.

Wonderful! said the influential Economist magazine this week, which credited her with holding Europe together and listed what it sees as her underestimated achievement. ‘Greece has not fallen out of the euro; northern Europeans have paid for bailouts; Spain and others have made reforms few thought possible; she helped get rid of clowns like Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi. The euro’s survival so far was not inevitable.’

Why do they approve so strongly? Political analysts say her catchphrase ‘step by step’ is a clue to the dogged determination that has marked her time in office so far, and made her the poster girl for European austerity. And the stakes are high, not just for Germany, which is enjoying a period of prosperity that makes it the envy of the whole EU.

The stability provided by a confident and ever-more-powerful Germany at the heart of the continent’s politics has so far prevented each chapter in the ongoing saga of the debt crisis from becoming the final catastrophe.

In the final days of the election campaign, Merkel has promised to once again do whatever it takes to prop up the Euro. Because the country she leads is so powerful, observers are saying she could become, if she wins a second term of office, one of history’s great leaders.

‘Holy German Empire’

During the most turbulent period in the European Union’s recent history, say her fans, Merkel has provided reassurance to a jittery continent. Some see a future century for the West under the benign influence of a hugely powerful Germany.

But in some parts of Europe, where cuts to public spending have wrecked lives, Merkel has become a hate figure and Germany’s power over the rest of the continent is resented. Her opponents ask the voters to ditch Frau Merkel in favour of a more caring – and expensive – policy that may make Germany less unpopular in southern Europe. But this would destroy the confidence of international investors and could even lead to the Eurozone disintegrating. Does being the saviour, saint and ‘great leader’ to some mean continuing to endure the hatred of the rest?

You Decide

  1. Is ‘step by step’ a good motto?
  2. Why is Merkel a hero to some in the Eurozone and a villain to others?

Activities

  1. Design an election poster for Angela Merkel.
  2. Research the current German coalition government led by Mrs Merkel, and make a chart explaining what the parties standing in this election stand for.

Some People Say...

“The EU should prevent any one country becoming so powerful.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why does the German election matter so much to the rest of us?
Since 2008’s financial crash, some EU nations have seen their economiesfoundering on a sea of unaffordable debt: this has led to unprecedented strain in the club of 17 nations that use the single European currency. Merkel’s insistence on cutbacks in Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal has even led to demonstrators in their cities portraying her as a Nazi.
And what about outside the Eurozone?
We have all been at risk: the Eurozone is the world’s largest trading bloc. That means they buy and sell products and services all over the world, and their prosperity or economic disaster affects our own businesses, jobs and economic confidence.

Word Watch

Christian Democrats
Like other parties of the same name, the German CDU was founded as an attempt to promote conservative Christian values within a democratic system. Today it represents much the same views as other centre-right parties: low taxes, free markets and relatively conservative social policy.
Bailouts
Since the financial crash of 2007-8, a string of European countries have spiralled into catastrophic debt crises. Fearing that a bankrupt economy might mean the end of the common currency, European leaders have introduced rescue packages for five troubled nations – on the condition that the governments make severe spending cuts.
Silvio Berlusconi
This media mogul turned right wing politician dominated Italian politics for over a decade, during which he was Prime Minister four times. He clung on through a spree of corruption scandals before finally losing the 2011 election, and last month he was convicted of tax evasion by Italy’s highest court.

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