In power for almost seven years, the political stature of Angela Merkel is without equal among the leaders of the European Union.
The condition of Germany’s economy and the health of its public finances have reinforced the Chancellor’s position in imposing her way of trying to deal with the euro zone’s debt crisis.
Yet fiscal discipline and the reduction of deficits
have not won her universal approval by any means, not with the social cost of austerity policies, and the rise in unemployment in many partner countries. Merkel’s strict line carries a risk of rejection in a Europe feeling talked-down-to by Berlin.
Among the names she has been called, the ‘Iron Chancellor’ is not the harshest. A photo montage by British magazine the New Statesman speaks a thousand words, even without ‘dangerous’ in the title; in it she is portrayed as ‘Terminator’, from the film.
Not only the media but Merkel’s peers have criticised the cure she prescribes for the crisis as too severe. Pressure was especially pronounced at the G20 summit in Mexico in June, conveyed by the most indebted euro zone countries. Yet she is nothing if not tenacious, as her career has proven.
Born in Hamburg, in July 1954, Angela Merkel was raised in the former East Germany, her father a Lutheran pastor and her mother a teacher.
After German reunification in 1990 she joined the conservative Christian Democratic Union, as a protege of its leader Helmut Kohl, who appointed her Federal Minister for Women and Youth.
The CDU elected her as its chair before the decade was out.
She became Chancellor in 2005 after a stalemate election and would govern in a grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party, until she won a larger majority in 2009.
Since then, in spite of electoral defeats in regional polls, Merkel’s popularity among Germans has never been higher, with more than two thirds saying they approve of her handling of the euro zone crisis.
Dubbed the world’s ‘most powerful’ woman by Forbes magazine, or the ‘Queen of Europe’ by Germany’s Der Spiegel, while Merkel is riding high in domestic opinion polls there are rumblings from within her party.
Some members are ‘stomping about with clenched fists stuffed into their pockets,’ claims Professor of literature and political and economic advisor Gertrud Höhler.
In her latest book she describes the “system M” set up by Merkel, calling it “crypto, or invisible -authoritarian”.
Back in the Helmut Kohl era, Höhler was spoken of as a possible minister, and is a well-connected CDU member. She is a strong voice among the marginalised core conservatives, and knows her party inside-out.
She spoke to euronews from Berlin.
“Prof Höhler, you have analysed the Merkel system. How did you come to the conclusion that Merkel disempowers parliament?”
“Yes, she does that in the process of the so called saving of the euro. Disempowerment grows. We now have the decision of the European Central Bank that it does not need parliamentary approval for its bond buying programme.
“That plunges the reach of monetary policy deep into parliamentary democracy in the EU member countries as well as in the European parliament.
“Germans now live in a democracy with heavy pressure for consensus – that creates the clenched fists in the pockets of the dissatisfied and angry who do not consent to the style of a one-party state.
“They know they will be isolated or even lose their jobs. And I have to tell you that such a development where everyone always votes for the same reminds me of totalitarian systems.”
“Hollande is a typical French-style state interventionist. Merkel for you is a champion of the centrally-planned economy. Isn’t that the dream team that will lead Europe into what eurosceptics call the ‘EU-SSR’?”
“Yes, indeed, they both largely agree on the point of government interventions in the economy. But what is striking is how Merkel keeps her distance from Hollande. And the reason for that is probably that she does not need a competitor for the distribution of the future top jobs in Europe.”
“How does Angela Merkel exploit Europe’s institutions in her fight for power?”
“Yes, she creates approval for constructions that nobody really understands.
“The finance ministers of the EU member countries are all immune. They are sworn to secrecy.
“We have perpetuity – a anti-democratic model, and at the same time we have the unlimited possibility to disperse money. That’s what they called the Stabilisation Mechanism but in fact that drives the destabilisation of Europe.
“I have to thank you; it is extremely important that we understand that if parliament converts from decider to a mere observer, then it will be extremely dangerous for democracy.”