Mar 24, 2013

Angela Merkel - the view from Italy

Angela Merkel's desk is dominated by a portrait of Catherine II, the great German tsarina who began a written correspondence with Voltaire. Every now and then, even the German chancellor takes a break from economic relations and political advisors and gives herself some time to reflect. To this end, she occasionally brings together a few writers and academics, specialising in radically different disciplines and simply listens. Last summer, during one of these dinners, she was asked how long she would carry on demanding sacrifices from Greece. "As long as the bags under Papandreou's eyes are smaller than mine," she replied.

Regularly crowned the most powerful woman in the world in international surveys, Merkel is aware that, after her rapid ascent to become not only the first female chancellor, but also the youngest in German history, the euro crisis will be her most critical test. It is that which will determine whether Helmut Kohl's former pupil is worthy of a place in the history books, and whether or not it is adorned with flattering adjectives.

However, the future of the single currency also depends on whether Germany can maintain its leadership role in Europe. Inevitably, it has provoked distrust in the rest of the continent: in which the chancellor's costly dilly-dallying during the debt crisis, led to remarks about a third world war in the British press. Even the new stability agreement, which has been subject to rigorous German accounting, incites fears that Europe is strangling its own growth potential.

In 1990, it was Kohl who discovered the woman he called "the girl". Then a 36-year-old physics researcher, she had grown up behind the iron curtain, wore enormous skirts and sported the haircut of a medieval knight. Within a few months the chancellor had catapulted her to the top of federal politics. There, she soon showed herself to have a great capacity for diplomacy and to be an unusually fast learner. As the daughter of a protestant minister, she took advantage of the fact that parties such as the CDU/CSU were almost entirely dominated by men who underestimated her.

It is common knowledge that, on her road to victory, she even pushed aside her mentor in 2000, when she called upon the party – then crushed by allegations it had obtained illicit funds – to liberate itself from the "Father of Reunification". But from 2005, when she took over the top job, Merkel has shown herself capable of being at the helm of a country that, since its entry into the euro, has lost the only symbol of power granted to it since the second world war: the deutschmark.

The chancellor's habit of letting reason triumph over visionary impulses and Kohl-type breakaways is clear to see. It may possibly owe something to the after-effects of a motor problem in her legs, which forced her since childhood to plan the smallest of manoeuvres in advance. And, as she has herself declared, the experience of living under a communist dictatorship in East Germany has above all taught her to distrust everyone. This distrust, in turn, has fed into her proverbial caution and pragmatic approach towards European politics.

A positive side to this pragmatism is shown in her attitude towards the European Central Bank and its extraordinary transactions – which more orthodox Germans continue to brand a violation of the treaties. The chancellor, however, is well aware it continues to be the only bulwark against an escalation of the crisis.

And when Axel Weber, a candidate for the German presidency, unexpectedly withdrew from the contest in protest against the bank's new functions, Merkel backed the installation of the Italian Mario Draghi as its new head.

The accession of the other "super Mario" – Monti, in Italy, which has served to bring that country more closely into the fold – has proved something of a relief for Merkel. Even the former head of the EU's antitrust body recently admitted that Merkel's mission is to "make Italians more similar to Germans". Who knows if she will succeed. And, above all, who knows if the Germans will then like us more.


Wahyusamputra said...

Two outstanding accomplishments are not mentioned in the article above:

1. Having pretty much opted for non-nuclear power, Germany achieved a staggering, and unequalled, percentage of its electrical requirements from solar arrays in 2012;

2. Infant circumcision, male or female, has been openly opposed as being genital mutilation that the person might well not wish to have when they are of an age to choose.

Wahyusamputra said...

The Russian oligarch types, as you may have noticed, got all their cash safely out of Cyprus, by the simple expedient of going to the Bank of Cyprus branch in London, an operation well within their competence, and asking to withdraw their entire billions amount, an approach unfortunately not within the capacity of most Cypriots.

'Fve billion? One two three four five, yes. Thank you and have a nice day'

Wahyusamputra said...

St. John Revelation 8:8

'And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood'

Wahyusamputra said...

“Far from giving you a blueprint for your rise to the top, these routines will probably cause you to reconsider the whole idea of becoming CEO of a major communications conglomerate.

For the most part, it sounds horrible. There is no respite at the top of the greasy pole, no finish line at the end of the rat race – it's just more of the same. What's the point of being rich and successful if you have to get up before dawn every day to answer 500 emails? There are so many other options open to you: wage slave, failed artist, cowboy plumber, petty thief, local weirdo. The money isn't good, but the hours are very attractive.”

Guardian, 4/2/13