Sun Nov 27th, 2005 at 03:24:16 AM EST
From the front page ~ whataboutbob
Today, the Bundestag elected Angela Merkel Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. She received 397 (or 61 % of the) votes. This means that 51 MPs from the grand coalition, most probably from the SPD, did not vote for her. But given the circumstances - a few weeks ago, a large part of the CDU faction denied SPD's Wolfgang Thierse their yes-vote for deputy parliamentary chair - this is an acceptable outcome. The missing votes can hardly be seen as an indication of long-term opposition against Merkel in the SPD faction. After the Müntefering-disaster, the SPD MPs will think twice before opposing any grand coalition decisions which have been made on the leadership level.
Merkel is the 34th chancellor of Germany, the 8th chancellor of the Federal Republic and the first woman to become German chancellor.
Consequently, we can not get around the question: Who is Angela Merkel? - I would like to present some biographical details.
If you are interested: Many of the following (and more) can be found on Wikipedia. It is far from being complete. If you have other things about Merkel's political and personal bigraphy in mind, feel free to comment!
Born July 17 1954 Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg as the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Her family moved to Templin in Mecklenburg-Pomerania, north of Berlin, because her father received a pastorship there. She went to school in Templin and studied Physics in Leipzig.
From these early biographic data, some explanations for Merkel's behaviour today might be deduced (many discussions in German media about that): First, growing up in a pastor family in the GDR, meant that more caution of state security service (Stasi) than for usual people was necessary, for Stasi usually watched church representatives closely. Her notorious poker face is often being explained with this biographical detail, as is her habit of expressing her opinion only after careful forethought. Second, as a physicist, she is used to systematic thinking and to ideas of agent and reagent. Indeed I think that her overall political style will be a more rational one, compared to the emotional style of Gerhard Schröder.
Merkel worked as a scientist until 1990. In 1989, she got involved with the democratic movement and joined the party Demokratischer Aufbruch and subsequently became spokesperson of the first (and only) democratically elected Government under Lothar de Maizière. In December 1990, she was elected to the first Bundestag of unified Germany. In 1991, after her party had merged with the CDU, she became Minister for Women and Youth in the Kohl government. In 1994, she changed the department and became Minister of the Environment and Reactor Safety - a promotion, since this was not a typical "women department" any more. Nevertheless, the post was not a very high-profiled one in the Kohl government with its pronounced disregard of environmental issues. Kohl used to call her "the girl" ("das Mädchen" - a nickname she works hard to overcome...).
When Kohl was defeated in the 1998 elections, she became secretary-general of the CDU. In the finance scandal which shook the party one year later, Merkel was one of the few people in the party administration with a clean slate (thanks to her East-German biography). While Kohl and his successor Schäuble stumbled across this scandal (the CDU had received several Million Deutschmark from unknown sponsors and had failed to record the donations - leading to the never-disproved suspicion that the Kohl-government was corrupt), Merkel took the chance and distanced herself from Kohl. She became chairwoman in 2000 and was at first regarded as a nice clean cover woman - necessary at the very moment, but after some time had passed, she would be replaced by one of the men with high aspirations. At first, it really looked like that: She conceded the candidature for chancellorship to Edmund Stoiber in 2002. After that, I have to admit, I would have never thought that she would get another chance. I underestimted her, as did everyone else.
When Stoiber lost narrowly, Merkel regained control of the CDU/CSU-union and successfully outrivalled potential inner-party enemies (ask Friedrich Merz) and did not give the aspiring regional government leaders (e.g. Roland Koch from Hessen) the chance to shoot at her. Her only big mistake I can think of was the decision (and, most of all, the way the decision was made) for Paul Kirchhof as designated finance minister. But in this case, she simply seems to have had good luck, winning the elections by just 1 %.
So, Angela Merkel is not only one of the most intellectually capable chancellors this country has ever had, she also seems - as of now - to have the luck on her side. I will not make the same mistake again to underestimate her. Her task will not be easy, both in terms of her chancellorship for Germany and her leadership for the CDU. But I expect her to remain the most powerful woman in Europe for some time to come.