Merkel in the middle
For the rest of this week, a tentatively smiling Angela Merkel will be pictured on every title page and magazine cover in the German-speaking part of the world. According to preliminary results, the conservative party bloc spearheaded by the German chancellor fell just short of obtaining a super majority. Merkel couldn’t have hoped for a better validation of her policies, her leadership agenda – and her person.
The campaign leading up to the 2013 parliamentary elections was somewhat unusual compared to Germany’s recent history, as it didn’t make party programmes the focus, but rested heavily on the personalities of the two top contenders – incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel and Peer Steinbrück, for the Social Democrats.
Merkel’s victory isn’t very surprising, despite the criticism she received in her own country and throughout Europe for holding back the bailout designed to help struggling EU nations and her austerity measures. Peer Steinbrück, who originally might have had a chance, did receive a decent amount of votes, but there were too many glitches in his campaign for him to win. He was unpopular with female voters and experienced several cringe-worthy moments – including flashing his middle finger during a photo shoot (a picture that ended up a magazine cover and will probably haunt him for the rest of his political career).
Merkel however conducted herself in the same calm and subdued manner as always – she focused on herself and conveyed the idea of security, persistence and stability, and now embarks on her third term of office.
Whatever my opinion of conservative politics and Merkel’s way of dealing with the Eurocrisis, I cannot fail but notice what a transformation “Angie” went through as a politician.
From being an underestimated figure on the fringes of her own party, who was more noticed for her startling disinterest in fashion – yes, physical appearance still seems to matter in the way we judge female politicians – to being the most powerful political leader in Europe, Merkel has come a long way.
She strategically positioned herself in the exact middle of Germany’s political landscape, by making room for a stronger family and social policy initiatives, as well as by advocating for better integration measures and pushing for nuclear phaseout after the Fukushima catastrophe. Merkel opened up the Conservative bloc and gave it attributes shared by the Social Democrats and the Greens. By that, she made herself more appealing to a wide spectrum of voters.
As chancellor of Europe’s largest economy, her actions strongly influence the Eurozone, and I have to admit, she is conducting herself well under the pressure. The woman with the quiet manner proved to be tough. With a curt nod she accepted having her counterfeit burned by protesters in Greece and being called “Hitler in a skirt” (an absolutely ridiculous comment, not just because she only wears pant suits). Angela Merkel has never been a political wife, like Hillary Clinton, nor has she been as charismatically challenged as Margaret Thatcher. Hardly ever raising her voice, she has carved out a place for herself in political history.
The German media is portraying Merkel as an unconventional single-mother-figure, and that probably captures her political character best. By many Merkel is perceived as the sensible middle course in difficult times. Germany, and perhaps the EU as a whole, seem to have a need for this woman’s pragmatic stoicism – and that manifested itself in the election results.