Angela Merkel

Angela Dorothea Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and party leader of the Christian Democratic Union.

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Angela Dorothea Merkel (pronounced [aŋˈɡeːla doʁoˈteːa ˈmɛʁkl̩] ( listen);[1] née Kasner; born 17 July 1954) is the Chancellor of Germany and party leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).[2] Merkel is the first woman to have become Chancellor of Germany.

A physical chemist by professional background, Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989 and briefly served as the deputy spokesperson for Lothar de Maizière's democratically elected East German government prior to the German reunification. Following reunification in 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag, where she has represented the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern since. She served as Federal Minister for Women and Youth 1991–1994 and as Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety 1994–1998 in Helmut Kohl's fourth and fifth cabinets. She was Secretary General of the CDU 1998–2000, and was elected chairperson in 2000. From 2002 to 2005, she was also chair of the CDU/CSU parliamentary coalition.

After her election as Chancellor following the 2005 federal election, she led a grand coalition consisting of her own CDU party, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), until 2009. In the 2009 federal election, the CDU obtained the largest share of the votes, and formed a coalition government with the CSU and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).[3]

In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and chaired the G8, the second woman (after Margaret Thatcher) to do so. She played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of her priorities was also to strengthen transatlantic economic relations by signing the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council on 30 April 2007. Merkel is seen as playing a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and has been referred to as "the decider."[4] In domestic policy, health care reform and problems concerning future energy development have been major issues of her tenure.

Angela Merkel has been described as "the de facto leader of the European Union" and is currently ranked as the world's fourth most powerful person by the Forbes magazine, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman.[5][6]

Early life

Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg, West Germany, the daughter of Horst Kasner (1926–2011),[7] native of Berlin, and his wife Herlind, born in 1928 in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) as Herlind Jentzsch, a teacher of English and Latin. Her mother was once a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany.[8] In an interview with Der Spiegel in 2000, Merkel stated that she was one quarter Polish.[9] The Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung, attempting to establish if this referred to her grandparents on her mother's side, Willi Jentzsch and Gertrud Drange, reported that, according to their researches, they were both of German descent and lived in Danzig where Willi Jentzsch was a Gymnasium teacher.[10] She has a brother, Marcus (born 7 July 1957), and a sister, Irene (born 19 August 1964).

Merkel's father studied theology in Heidelberg and, afterwards, in Hamburg. In 1954 her father received a pastorate at the church in Quitzow (near Perleberg in Brandenburg), which then was in East Germany, and the family moved to Templin. Thus Merkel grew up in the countryside 80 km (50 mi) north of Berlin. Gerd Langguth, a former senior member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, states in his book[11] that the family's ability to travel freely from East to West Germany during the following years, as well as their possession of two automobiles, leads to the conclusion that Merkel's father had a "sympathetic" relationship with the communist regime, since such freedom and perquisites for a Christian pastor and his family would have been otherwise impossible in East Germany.

Like most pupils, Merkel was a member of the official, Socialist-led youth movement Free German Youth (FDJ). However, she did not take part in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, which was common in East Germany, and was confirmed instead. Later, at the Academy of Sciences, she became a member of the FDJ district board and secretary for "Agitprop" (Agitation and Propaganda). Merkel herself claimed that she was secretary for culture. When Merkel's onetime FDJ district chairman contradicted her, she insisted that: "According to my memory, I was secretary for culture. But what do I know? I believe I won't know anything when I'm 80."[12] Merkel's progress in the compulsory Marxism-Leninism course was graded only genügend (sufficient, passing grade) in 1983 and 1986.[13]

At school, she learned to speak Russian fluently, and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics.[14] Merkel was educated in Templin and at the University of 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 of Leipzig. However, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed.[15] 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,[16] she worked as a researcher and published several papers.

In 1989, Merkel got involved in the growing democracy movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Following the first (and only) democratic election of the East German state, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maizière.[17]

Member of Bundestag and cabinet minister

At the first post-reunification general election in December 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag from the constituency Stralsund – Nordvorpommern – Rügen, which is coextensive with the district of Vorpommern-Rügen. This has remained her electoral district until today. Her party merged with the west German CDU[18] and she became Minister for Women and Youth in Helmut Kohl's 3rd cabinet. In 1994, she was made Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform on which to build her political career. As one of Kohl's protégées and his youngest cabinet minister, she was referred to by Kohl as "mein Mädchen" ("my girl").[19]

Leader of the opposition



Merkel as deputy government spokesperson together with Lothar de Maizière, August 1990

When the Kohl government was defeated in the 1998 general election, Merkel was named Secretary-General of the CDU. In this position, Merkel oversaw a string of Christian Democrat election victories in six out of seven state elections in 1999 alone, breaking the SPD-Green coalition's hold on the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the states. Following a party financing scandal, which compromised many leading figures of the CDU (most notably Kohl himself, who refused to reveal the donor of DM 2,000,000 claiming he had given his word of honour and the then party chairman Wolfgang Schäuble, Kohl's hand-picked successor, who wasn't cooperative either), Merkel criticized her former mentor, Kohl, and advocated a fresh start for the party without him. She was elected to replace Schäuble, becoming the first female chair of her party, on 10 April 2000. Her election surprised many observers, as her personality offered a contrast to the party she had been chosen to lead; Merkel is a Protestant, originating from predominantly Protestant northern Germany, while the CDU is a male-dominated, socially conservative party with strongholds in western and southern Germany, and the Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has deep Catholic roots.

Following Merkel's election as CDU leader, she enjoyed considerable popularity among the German population and was favoured by many Germans to become Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's challenger in the 2002 election. However, she did not receive enough support in her own party and particularly its sister party (the Bavarian Christian Social Union, or CSU), and was subsequently outmanoeuvred politically by CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, to whom she eventually ceded the privilege of challenging Schröder; however, he squandered a large lead in the opinion polls to lose the election by a razor-thin margin. After Stoiber's defeat in 2002, in addition to her role as CDU chairwoman, Merkel became leader of the conservative opposition in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, who had held the post of parliamentary leader prior to the 2002 election, was eased out to make way for Merkel.[citation needed]

Merkel supported a substantial reform agenda concerning Germany's economic and social system and was considered to be more pro-market than her own party (the CDU); she advocated changes to German labour law, specifically removing barriers to laying off employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week, arguing that existing laws made the country less competitive because companies cannot easily control labour costs at times when business is slow.[20]

Merkel argued for Germany's nuclear power to be phased out less quickly than the Schröder administration had planned.[21]

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.[22]

Path to election

On 30 May 2005, Merkel won the CDU/CSU nomination as challenger to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD in the 2005 national elections. Her party began the campaign with a 21 point lead over the SPD in national opinion polls, although her personal popularity lagged behind that of the incumbent. However, the CDU/CSU campaign suffered[citation needed] when Merkel, having made economic competence central to the CDU's platform, confused gross and net income twice during a televised debate. She regained some momentum after she announced that she would appoint Paul Kirchhof, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court and leading fiscal policy expert, as Minister of Finance.[citation needed]

Merkel and the CDU lost ground after Kirchhof proposed the introduction of a flat tax in Germany, again undermining the party's broad appeal on economic affairs and convincing many voters that the CDU's platform of deregulation was designed to benefit only the rich. This was compounded by Merkel proposing to increase VAT to reduce Germany's deficit and fill the gap in revenue from a flat tax. The SPD were able to increase their support simply by pledging not to introduce flat taxes or increase VAT. Although Merkel's standing recovered after she distanced herself from Kirchhof's proposals, she remained considerably less popular than Schröder, and the CDU's lead was down to 9% on the eve of the election.

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 35.3% (CDU 27.8%/CSU 7.5%) of the second votes to the SPD's 34.2%. 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, and both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory. 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.[23][24] The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November 2005.[25] 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.[26]

Reports had indicated that the grand coalition would pursue a mix of policies, some of which differ 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.[27]

Merkel had stated that the main aim of her government would be to reduce unemployment, and that it is this issue on which her government will be judged.[28]

Chancellor of Germany

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. She was re-elected in 2009 with a larger majority and was able to form a governing coalition with the FDP.

Foreign policy



President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama in 2009 went to visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, professor Joachim Sauer, to Rathaus in Baden-Baden, Germany.

On 25 September 2007, Merkel met the 14th Dalai Lama for "private and informal talks" in Berlin in the Chancellery amid protest from China. China afterwards cancelled separate talks with German officials, including talks with Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries.[29]

One of her priorities was to strengthen transatlantic economic relations by signing at the White House the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council on 30 April 2007. The Council is co-chaired by an EU and US official, and aims at removing barriers to trade in a further integrated transatlantic free trade area.[30] This project has been described as ultra-liberal by the French left-wing politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, fearing a transfer of sovereignty from citizens to multinationals and an alignment of the European Union on the American foreign policy and institutions.[31][32]

Der Spiegel reported that tensions between Chancellor Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama[33] were eased during a meeting between the two leaders in June 2009. Commenting on a White House Press Conference held after the meeting, Spiegel stated, "Of course the rather more reserved chancellor couldn't really keep up with [Obama's]...charm offensive," but to reciprocate for Obama's "good natured" diplomacy, "she gave it a go...by mentioning the experiences of Obama's sister in Heidelberg, making it clear that she had read his autobiography".[34]



Merkel and Vladimir Putin, then Prime Minister of Russia, holding a joint press conference, March 8, 2008.

In 2006 Merkel expressed concern for overreliance on Russian energy, but she received little support from others in Berlin.[35]

Israel

On 16 March 2008, Merkel arrived in Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state. She was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, an honor guard and many of the country's political and religious leaders, including most of the Israeli Cabinet.[36] Until then, US President George W. Bush had been the only world leader Olmert had bestowed with the honor of greeting at the airport.[37][38] Merkel spoke before Israel's parliament, the only foreigner who was not a head of state to have done so,[39] although this provoked rumbles of opposition from Israeli MPs on the far right.[40] At the time, Merkel was also both the President of the European Council and the chair of the G8. Merkel has supported Israeli diplomatic initiatives, opposing the Palestinian bid for membership at the UN. However, Merkel was offended when settlement building continued beyond the Green Line,[41] and felt personally betrayed by the Israeli government's behavior. [42]

Liquidity crisis

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 October 6, with German banks to contribute €30 billion and the Bundesbank €20 billion to a credit line.[43]

On 4 October 2008, a Saturday, following the Irish Government's decision to guarantee all deposits in private savings accounts, a move she strongly criticized,[44] 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.[45] 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.[46] Other European governments eventually either raised the limits or promised to guarantee savings in full.[46]

India

Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a ‘Joint Declaration’ emphasising the Indo-German strategic partnership in 2006.[47] It turned the focus of future cooperation onto the fields of energy, science and technology, and defence. A similar Declaration, signed during Merkel’s visit to India in 2007, noted the substantial progress made in Indo-German relations and set ambitious goals for their development in the future.[47] The relationship with India on the basis of cooperation and partnership was further strengthened with Merkel's visit to India in 2011. At the invitation of the Indian government, the two countries held their first intergovernmental consultations in New Delhi. These consultations set a new standard in the implementation of the strategic partnership, as India became only the third non-European country with which Germany has had this nature of comprehensive consultations.[47] India became the first Asian country to hold a joint cabinet meeting with Germany during Merkel's state visit.[48]

The Indian government presented the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding for the year 2009 to Merkel. A statement issued by the Government of India stated that the award “recognises her personal devotion and enormous efforts for sustainable and equitable development, for good governance and understanding and for the creation of a world better positioned to handle the emerging challenges of the 21st century.”[47]

Failure of multiculturalism

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",[49] stating: "The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it does not work"[50] and that "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."[51] She continued to say that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany's culture and values. This has added to a growing debate within Germany[52] on the levels of immigration, its effect on Germany and the degree to which Muslim immigrants have integrated into German society.

Approval

Midway through her second term, Merkel's approval plummeted in the country, resulting in heavy losses in state elections for her party.[53] A poll in August 2011 found her coalition with only 36% support compared to a rival coalition which had 51%.[54] However, she scored well on her handling of the recent euro crisis (69% rated her performance as good rather than poor), and her approval rating reached an all-time high of 77% in February 2012.[55]

Cabinets

The first cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in at 16:00 CET, on 22 November 2005.

On 31 October 2005, after the defeat of his favoured candidate for the position of Secretary General of the SPD, Franz Müntefering indicated that he would resign as Chairman of the party in November, which he did. Ostensibly responding to this, Edmund Stoiber (CSU), who was originally nominated for the Economics and Technology post, announced his withdrawal on 1 November 2005. While this was initially seen as a blow to Merkel's attempt at forming a viable coalition and cabinet, the manner in which Stoiber withdrew earned him much ridicule and severely undermined his position as a Merkel rival. Separate conferences of the CDU, CSU, and SPD approved the proposed Cabinet on 14 November 2005

The second cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in on 28 October 2009.[56]

Personal life

In 1977, Angela Kasner married physics student Ulrich Merkel. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982.[57] Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight. They first met in 1981,[58] became partners later and married privately on 30 December 1998.[59] She has no children, but Sauer has two adult sons from a previous marriage.[60]

Honours

In 2006, Angela Merkel was awarded the Vision for Europe Award for her contribution toward greater European integration. In 2007, Merkel was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.[61][62] In March 2006, the Italian President of the Republic gave the German Chancellor the recognition of Dama di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana.

She received the Karlspreis (Charlemagne Prize) for 2008 for distinguished services to European unity.[63][64]

In January 2008, Merkel was awarded Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.[65] She was also awarded the honorary doctorate from Leipzig University in June 2008,[66] University of Technology in Wrocław (Poland) in September 2008[67] and Babeş-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca, Romania on 12 October 2010 for her historical contribution to the European unification and for her global role in renewing international cooperation.[68][69][70] In March 2008 she received the B'nai B'rith Europe Award of Merit.[71]

Merkel topped Forbes magazine's list of "The World's 100 Most Powerful Women" in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012.[72]

New Statesman named Angela Merkel in "The World's 50 Most Influential Figures" 2010.[73]

On June 16, 2010, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C. awarded Chancellor Merkel its Global Leadership Award (AICGS) in recognition of her outstanding dedication to strengthening German-American relations.[74] On September 21, 2010, the Leo Baeck Institute, a research institution in New York City devoted to the history of German-speaking Jewry, awarded Angela Merkel the Leo Baeck Medal. The medal was presented by former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and current Director of the Jewish Museum Berlin, W. Michael Blumenthal, who cited Merkel's support of Jewish cultural life and the integration of minorities in Germany.[75]

On 15 February 2011, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama.[76] The medal is presented to people who have made an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.[77]

On 31 May 2011, she received the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for the year 2009 from the Indian government. She received the award for International understanding.[78]

On November 28, 2012, she will receive the Heinz Galinski Award in Berlin, Germany.

Comparisons

As a female politician from a centre right party who is also a scientist, Merkel has been compared by many in the English-language press to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Some have referred to her as "Iron Lady", "Iron Girl", and even "The Iron Frau" (all alluding to Thatcher, whose nickname was "The Iron Lady"—Thatcher also has a science degree: an Oxford University degree in chemistry). Political commentators have debated the precise extent to which their agendas are similar.[79] Later in her tenure, Merkel acquired the nickname "Mutti" (from a German familiar form of 'mother'), said by Der Spiegel to refer to an idealised mother figure from the 1950s and 1960s.[80]

In addition to being the first female German chancellor, the first to represent a Federal Republic of Germany that included the former East Germany (though she was born in the West and moved to the East a few weeks after her birth, when her father decided to return to East Germany as a Lutheran pastor[81]), and the youngest German chancellor since the Second World War, Merkel is also the first born after World War II, and the first chancellor of the Federal Republic with a background in natural sciences. She studied physics; her predecessors studied law, business or history or were military officers, among others.

Forbes has named her the fourth most powerful person in the world as of 2011.[82]

Controversy

Merkel has been criticised for being personally present and involved at the M100 Media Award handover[83] to Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. This happened at a time of fierce emotional debate in Germany over disparaging remarks about Muslim immigrants made by the former Deutsche Bundesbank executive Thilo Sarrazin.[84] The Zentralrat der Muslime[85][86] and the left party[87] (Die Linke) as well as the German Green Party[88][89] criticised the action by the centre-right chancellor. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper wrote: "This will probably be the most explosive appointment of her chancellorship so far."[90] Others have praised Merkel and called it a brave and bold move for the cause of freedom of speech.

In September 2010, concerning a debate on integration, Merkel said to the Frankfurter Allgemeine that "Germans will see more mosques".[91] In October 2010, following a speech by the President of the Federal Republic of Germany Christian Wulff during the German reunification day, she stated that "Islam is part of Germany".[92]

Members of her cabinet and Merkel herself also support the idea of, and are already introducing, Islamic education and classes in schools.[93][94][95][96]

References

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