Angela Merkel

Germany's first female Chancellor

Merkel, Angela.jpg

"Angela Merkel is a German politician serving as Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000; since 24 October 2017 she and her Cabinet continue as the acting government until a new government is formed. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union, the most powerful woman in the world, and the leader of the Free World. She is the first female Chancellor of Germany, and the first Chancellor of postwar Germany to have grown up in the former East.

 

Merkel was born in Hamburg in then-West Germany and moved to East Germany as an infant when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, received a pastorate in Perleberg. She obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986 and worked as a research scientist until 1989. Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, and briefly served as a deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected East German Government headed by Lothar de Maizière in 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, Merkel was elected to the Bundestag for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has been reelected ever since. As the protégée of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel was appointed as the Federal Minister for Women and Youth in Kohl's government in 1991, and became the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 1994. After her party lost the federal election in 1998, Merkel was elected Secretary-General of the CDU before becoming the party's first female leader two years later in the aftermath of a donations scandal that toppled Wolfgang Schäuble.

 

Following the 2005 federal election, Merkel was appointed Germany's first female Chancellor at the head of a grand coalition consisting of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the 2009 federal election, the CDU obtained the largest share of the vote and Merkel was able to form a coalition government with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). At the 2013 federal election, Merkel's CDU won a landslide victory with 41.5% of the vote and formed a second grand coalition with the SPD, after the FDP lost all of its representation in the Bundestag. In the 2017 federal election the CDU again became the largest party; her cabinet continues as an acting government while she negotiates to form a new coalition.

 

In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of Merkel's consistent priorities has been to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. Merkel played a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and she has been referred to as "the decider." In domestic policy, health care reform, problems concerning future energy development and more recently her government's approach to the ongoing migrant crisis have been major issues during her Chancellorship. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union and she is currently the senior G7 leader…

 

In 1968, Merkel joined the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth movement sponsored by the ruling Marxist–Leninist Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Membership was nominally voluntary, but those who did not join found it difficult to gain admission to higher education. She did not participate in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, however, which was common in East Germany. Instead, she was confirmed. During this time, she participated in several compulsory courses on Marxism-Leninism with her grades only being regarded as "sufficient".

 

Later, at the Academy of Sciences, she became a member of its FDJ secretariat. According to her former colleagues, she openly propagated Marxism as the secretary for "Agitation and Propaganda". However, Merkel has denied this claim and stated that she was secretary for culture, which involved activities like obtaining theatre tickets and organising talks by visiting Soviet authors. She stated "I can only rely on my memory, if something turns out to be different, I can live with that."

 

At school, she learned to speak Russian fluently, and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics. Merkel was educated at Karl Marx University, Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritzbastei, a project students initiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University; however, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed.

 

Near the end of her studies, Merkel sought an assistant professorship at an engineering school. As a condition for getting the job, Merkel was told she would need to agree to report on her colleagues to officers of the Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Merkel declined, using the excuse that she could not keep secrets well enough to be an effective spy. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry in 1986, she worked as a researcher and published several papers. In 1986 she was able to travel freely to West-Germany to participate at a congress; she also participated in a multi-week language course in Donetsk…

 

The fall of the Berlin Wall served as the catalyst for Merkel's political career. Although she did not participate in the crowd celebrations the night the wall came down, one month later Merkel became involved in the growing democracy movement, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Following the first (and only) multi-party election in East Germany, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maizière…

 

Merkel stood for election at the 1990 federal election, the first since reunification, and was elected to the Bundestag for the constituency of Stralsund – Nordvorpommern – Rügen, which is in the district of Vorpommern-Rügen. She has won re-election for this constituency at the six federal elections since. After her first election, she was almost immediately appointed to the Cabinet, serving as Minister for Women and Youth under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In 1994, she was promoted to becoming Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform from which to build her political career. As one of Kohl's protégées and his youngest Cabinet Minister, she was frequently referred to by Kohl as "mein Mädchen" ("my girl").

 

After the Kohl Government was defeated at the 1998 election, Merkel was appointed Secretary-General of the CDU, a key position as the party was no longer part of the federal government. Merkel oversaw a string of CDU election victories in six out of seven state elections in 1999, breaking the long-standing SPD-Green hold on the Bundesrat. Following a party funding scandal that compromised many leading figures of the CDU — including Kohl himself and his successor as CDU Leader, Wolfgang Schäuble — Merkel criticised her former mentor publicly and advocated a fresh start for the party without him. She was subsequently elected to replace Schäuble, becoming the first female leader of a German party on 10 April 2000…

 

Merkel supported a substantial reform agenda for Germany's economic and social system, and was considered more pro-market than her own party (the CDU). She advocated German labour law changes, specifically removing barriers to laying off employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week. She argued that existing laws made the country less competitive, because companies could not easily control labour costs when business is slow.

 

Merkel argued that Germany should phase out nuclear power less quickly than the Schröder administration had planned.

 

Merkel advocated a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. In the spring of 2003, defying strong public opposition, Merkel came out in favour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing it as "unavoidable" and accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of anti-Americanism. She criticised the government's support for the accession of Turkey to the European Union and favoured a "privileged partnership" instead. In doing so, she reflected public opinion that grew more hostile toward Turkish membership of the European Union…

 

On 18 September 2005, Merkel's CDU/CSU and Schröder's SPD went head-to-head in the national elections, with the CDU/CSU winning 35.2% (CDU 27.8%/CSU 7.5%) of the second votes to the SPD's 34.2%. The result was so close, both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory. Neither the SPD-Green coalition nor the CDU/CSU and its preferred coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party, held enough seats to form a majority in the Bundestag. A grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD faced the challenge that both parties demanded the chancellorship. However, after three weeks of negotiations, the two parties reached a deal whereby Merkel would become Chancellor and the SPD would hold 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet…

 

On 22 November 2005, Merkel assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany following a stalemate election that resulted in a grand coalition with the SPD. The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November 2005. Merkel was elected Chancellor by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November 2005, but 51 members of the governing coalition voted against her.

 

Reports at the time indicated that the grand coalition would pursue a mix of policies, some of which differed from Merkel's political platform as leader of the opposition and candidate for Chancellor. The coalition's intent was to cut public spending whilst increasing VAT (from 16 to 19%), social insurance contributions and the top rate of income tax. When announcing the coalition agreement, Merkel stated that the main aim of her government would be to reduce unemployment, and that it was this issue on which her government would be judged…

 

In the 2017 election, Merkel led her party to victory for the fourth time. Both CDU/CSU and SPD received a significantly lower proportion of the vote than they did in the 2013 election. and attempted to form a coalition with the FDP and Greens. The collapse of these talks led to stalemate. The German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier appealed to the SPD to change their hard stance and to consider a 3rd grand coalition with the CDU/CSU…

 

Notable Domestic Policy

 

In October 2010, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany had "utterly failed", stating that: "The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it" does not work and "we feel attached to the Christian concept of mankind, that is what defines us. Anyone who doesn't accept that is in the wrong place here." She continued to say that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values. This has added to a growing debate within Germany on the levels of immigration, its effect on Germany and the degree to which Muslim immigrants have integrated into German society…

 

In the wake of the 2015 European migrant crisis, the number of people coming from African nations as well as from the Middle East, particularly Syria, rose significantly and Merkel pledged to give general refuge to Syrians in Germany fleeing from the civil war, subsequently discontinuing the enforcement of EU regulations for asylum seekers.

 

Notable Foreign Policy

 

Merkel's foreign policy has focused on strengthening European cooperation and international trade agreements. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union throughout her tenure as Chancellor.

 

One of Merkel's priorities was strengthening transatlantic economic relations. She signed the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council on 30 April 2007 at the White House. Merkel enjoyed good relations with former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Obama described her in 2016 as his "closest international partner" throughout his tenure as President…

 

In recognition of the importance of China to the German economy, by 2014 Merkel had led seven trade delegations to China since assuming office in 2005. The same year, in March, China's President Xi Jinping visited Germany…

 

Following major falls in worldwide stock markets in September 2008, the German government stepped in to assist the mortgage company Hypo Real Estate with a bailout, which was agreed on 6 October, with German banks to contribute €30 billion and the Bundesbank €20 billion to a credit line.

 

On 4 October 2008, a Saturday, following the Irish Government's decision to guarantee all deposits in private savings accounts, a move she strongly criticised, Merkel said there were no plans for the German Government to do the same. The following day, Merkel stated that the government would guarantee private savings account deposits, after all. However, two days later, on 6 October 2008, it emerged that the pledge was simply a political move that would not be backed by legislation…

 

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2013, she said that Europe had only 7% of the global population and produced only 25% of the global GDP, but that it accounted for almost 50% of global social expenditure. She went on to say that Europe could only maintain its prosperity by being innovative and measuring itself against the best. Since then, this comparison has become a central element in major speeches. The international financial press has widely commented on her thesis, with The Economist saying that:

 

If Mrs Merkel's vision is pragmatic, so too is her plan for implementing it. It can be boiled down to three statistics, a few charts and some facts on an A4 sheet of paper. The three figures are 7%, 25% and 50%. Mrs Merkel never tires of saying that Europe has 7% of the world's population, 25% of its GDP and 50% of its social spending. If the region is to prosper in competition with emerging countries, it cannot continue to be so generous… She produces graphs of unit labour costs ... at EU meetings in much the same way that the late Margaret Thatcher used to pull passages from Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom from her handbag…

 

Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union throughout her tenure as Chancellor. Merkel has twice been named the world's second most powerful person following Vladimir Putin by Forbes magazine, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union. In December 2015, Merkel was named as Time magazine's Person of the Year, with the magazine's cover declaring her to be the "Chancellor of the Free World". In May 2016, Merkel was named the most powerful woman in the world for a record twelve time by Forbes. Following the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency in November 2016, Merkel was described by The New York Times as "the Liberal West's Last Defender". Since 2016 she has been described by many commentators as the "leader of the free world". Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Merkel in 2017 as "the most important leader in the free world." She is currently the senior G7 leader." (1)

From Wikipedia