Less than 24 hours after becoming German Chancellor and Angela Merkel is already getting down to work. With yesterday’s applause still ringing in her ears she is to embark on a mini European tour, starting with visits to Paris and Brussels today.
Germany’s role within the EU is one concern, but German voters will be judging her more on domestic matters. Yesterday’s swearing-in of the new Chancellor and coalition government was accompanied by conciliatory words of thanks and expressions of optimism regarding the challenges ahead. But while thanking the out-going Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for his time in office, Merkel knows that unemployment under her predecessor reached a post war high of five million. She also knows that her coalition was only produced after nearly two months of talks which have watered down her party’s ability to enforce social welfare reform. Merkel held her first cabinet meeting within hours of taking up the chancellorship reins. She has inherited what was once called Europe’s economic engine but now has one of the weakest growth rates in the EU. The central plank of her programme is a deal to bring the country’s budget deficit back within EU limits by the year 2007- her main weopon is higher sales taxes. As if to emphasise the challenge,the European Commission has said it will call for an escalation in budget disciplinary proceedures against Germany if Merkel and her team fail to bring the budget under control.