Who is Angela Merkel? Most people have probably heard of her, given that she has been named the “Most Powerful Woman in the World” by Forbes not once, but ten times. However, besides her impressive political background and career, what exactly does Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, represent?
Germany has, for a while now, been a leading advocate for strengthening the liberal world order — as can be seen by the nation’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia,1 its limited involvement in Syria,2 and its adopted responsibility to “save the rest” of the Eurozone.3 Thus, Merkel can be accurately pronounced the new and current leader of the free world, even though she’s not completely aligned with traditional liberal values, especially in terms of cultural assimilation. (She has sought the integration of immigrants into German culture, rather than the promotion of free cultural expression.4) While this title, leader of the free world, has commonly been ascribed to the president of the United States, President Trump’s policy of a new American isolationism5 and his contempt for the world institutions created under US leadership after World War II indicate the U.S. will be taking the backseat seat for now. Meanwhile, Merkel — unlike Trump, whose rule is little more than corporate autocracy masked under a populist facade — continues to strive to protect liberal democracy and freedom.
Born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany, she is the daughter of Lutheran Pastor, Horst Krasner, and English and Latin teacher, Herlind Krasner. Her family relocated to East Germany the year Angela was born. She grew up there, in the countryside — not too far from East Berlin. Like the majority of the youth at the time, Merkel became a member of the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) which was the official youth movement of the German Democratic Republic. It was here that Merkel began to establish roots that would eventually allow her to become a powerful player in the world, albeit through a long and often difficult path.
Merkel first went to school for physics, earning a doctorate in quantum physics by the time she was in her early 30s. Even while pursuing her doctorate, her passion for politics and a free world never took a backseat. Thus, she became a part of the rising democratic movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.6 As a member of the Democratic Awakening Party, she eventually became the spokesperson for the interim government. Her party, after the country’s re-unification, became today’s Christian Democratic Union of Germany.7
As a young member of the newly formed CDU, Merkel ran for the federal elections in 1990 and was elected to the Bundestag8 — the German equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives — as the representative for a northern German district, and has been re-elected six times to that position since then. Her political career took a turn for the better when she was elected to the Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s cabinet as Minister for Women and Youth. Then in 1994, she was promoted to minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, improving her political visibility.9 Merkel saw her end as a cabinet minister when Kohl lost the re-election in 1998. Soon after, however, she began blazing her own path under the CDU and became the first female leader of any German party — and eventually Germany’s first female Chancellor.
However, Merkel’s gender wasn’t the only surprise factor in her nomination as the face of the CDU. As a party with a long history of male-dominated, socially-conservative, and Western German roots, Merkel’s background as a centrist woman from Protestant Northern Germany made her an unlikely favorite. However, despite this, she gained huge popularity among the people, and went on to become Leader of the Opposition in the Bundestag — which is traditionally the title held by leader of the largest party not in office in a parliamentary democracy.
As Leader of the Opposition, Merkel began forming her current political stance and agenda. She first challenged German labor laws and sought to make the nation more competitive, favoring a pro-market economy, increasing the amount of allowed work hours in a week, and giving employers more freedom in laying off employees. These policies were indicative of the austerity-focused economic approach for which she is known. She also advocated for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) to forge a strong alliance with the US, and against Turkey’s proposal to join the European Union. Eventually in 2005, after a long and arduous election, Merkel emerged as chancellor of Germany, forming a coalition with the opposing Social Democratic Party, the SPD, with a majority vote by the delegates. Her main goal was to reduce unemployment in the nation, and she was promptly re-elected in 2009.10
Merkel’s main goal as Chancellor on the foreign-policy front has been to strengthen international trade agreements and European cooperation. She has been widely pronounced as the European Union’s de facto leader.11 She has also focused greatly on a strong alliance with the United States while also favoring a strong alliance with China and an economic alliance with Russia.12
While Merkel’s policies are more centrist, her party’s strong Christian background has created some backlash in what is now a multicultural country. Merkel supports the integration of immigrants into German culture. However, the nation faces a dilemma as some immigrants are hesitant to embrace Germany’s values yet feel it is prerequisite for entry and acceptance into the country.13
Despite the limitations of some of Merkel’s policies, with Donald Trump’s chaotic instability destabilizing the order of leadership in the free world, she now has the chance to emerge — for better or for worse — as the world’s leading liberal official. She is one of the last pillars supporting the crumbling infrastructure of political moderation and expansion of globalization. Let’s just hope she remains standing.
- “A lurch onto the world stage,” The Economist, February 26, 2015, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Agencies, “Germany joins fight against Isil after parliament approves military action in Syria,” The Telegraph, December 04, 2015, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Delcker, Janosch. “Angela Merkel to refugees: Integration is a must.” POLITICO. May 27, 2016, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Krauthammer, Charles. “Drumpf’s Foreign-Policy Revolution.” National Review. January 27, 2017, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Macias, Amanda. “Angela Merkel’s incredible rise from quantum chemist to the world’s most powerful woman.” Business Insider. February 18, 2015, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Vick, Karl, and Simon Shuster. “TIME Person of the Year 2015: Angela Merkel.” Time. 2015, accessed March 2017. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Evans, Stephen. “Merkel says German multicultural society has failed.” BBC News. October 17, 2010, accessed March 07, 2017. ↩