• Germany's news in English

Why Angie ain't no Maggie

The Local · 10 Sep 2008, 18:11

Published: 10 Sep 2008 18:11 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

What kind of power does Chancellor Angela Merkel actually wield? There is an illusion abroad that Merkel is up there with the heavy-hitters because of her easy manner with the likes of George Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin – all difficult men with dysfunctional relationships to power.

Her technique – to treat the men as if she were their tomboy sister – creates a public illusion that she is in control, that she has mastered the man’s power game. You can certainly quibble with the Forbes list. Condoleezza Rice was a distant seventh. Yet Rice is still the woman who will advise the American president on whether to push the button that launches a missile attack on Iran.

When Merkel presses a button the only thing that happens is that her neutered courtiers stand to attention. And now the Forbes list has become outdated only days after being published. If John McCain becomes US president in November, and if he slips in the shower, a 44-year-old moose-hunting former beauty queen named Sarah Palin gets to run the country. Angie can't top that.

Perhaps the point of making Angela Merkel world champion is to honour her skill in castrating male rivals – at least that's how it started out. Margaret Thatcher, who still ranks as the most successful female leader, kept women out of her cabinet, preferring men that she could dominate.

Angela Merkel has been more subtle. She has slowly but surely chipped away at the authority of her male critics and rivals. The glass ceiling was supposed to be broken not by brutal force but by feminine stealth.

She has, quite honestly, not done a great deal while in power. But she has at least managed to give the impression of dynamic leadership. Perhaps that is what impressed the Forbes judges two years ago when she was first declared to be the most powerful woman on the globe. And perhaps they have fallen into a deep hibernation since then. Because Angela Merkel's power, never great, is beginning to crumble.

The Merkel Illusion has two components. The first – that she has huge talents as an international stateswoman – is based on the vacuum of power that opened up briefly in Europe and the world in 2006. Chirac, a lame duck. Blair and Bush, damaged by an unsuccessful war, both already thinking more in terms of their historical legacy than practical problem-solving. Russia, inward-looking as it tried to puzzle out what would happen after the Putin presidency.

Who else but Merkel could get the world talking again? Times have changed and to many outsiders, Merkel looks tired and often irrelevant. The United States is still playing only a marginal role in world affairs, but for the most part the vacuum has been filled. Sarkozy has taken over from Blair the role as the most exhibitionistic leader in Europe. Russia has solved its succession crisis by not really having one and is more assertive than ever.

And Merkel's confidence on the world stage has been sapped by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's shadow policy-making on China and Russia. Two years ago the world would have hailed the bravery of a German chancellor meeting up with the Dalai Lama and risking the anger of Beijing. Now that rendezvous just looks silly, pointless self-publicity – and there is a German foreign minister who is openly saying as much. What kind of power is that? Merkel cannot present herself as the champion of German interests because there is no consensus about what those interests are.

And, of course, at home too Merkel is beginning to look like a scout leader who lost her map. There is no such thing as Merkonomics. Only the good luck of a global economic recovery, the inheritance of Schröder's reforms that began to mature under her stewardship, and the dubious advantages of a radical increase in value added tax. All that has helped her balance the budget.

Story continues below…

But Merkel never even attempted to step in the shoes of the Iron Lady. Her lack of reforming zeal destroys her credibility as a future Thatcherite chancellor. Who believes any more that Merkel will ever be a tax-cutting leader? Naturally, her junior coalition partners the Social Democrats are clipping her wings. But mainly her problem is that she has let herself become a prisoner of the industrial lobbies – the big car lobby that is sabotaging her climate change plans, the nuclear lobby, pharmaceutical lobby – and even the tobacco peddlers thwarting a total smoking ban.

Does she have the power to bring about real change in Germany? Not any more. Angie's moment has passed. Her personal popularity is still high – perhaps that is what dazzled Forbes – but so is that of Queen Elizabeth. And they seem to be fulfilling similar functions: visiting kindergartens, making dinner speeches and attempting to stay out of dirty day to day politics. Thank God, Queen Angela does not have a son called Charles.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

Related links:

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German town, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

Student fined for spying on women via their webcams
Photo: DPA

Student from Munich fined €1,000 for spying on 32 different computers, using their webcams to take photographs, or record their keyboard history.

This is how much startup geeks earn in Germany
Photo: DPA

A comprehensive new survey of 143 startup founders shows how much you are likely to be earning at a German startup, from entry level all the way up to sitting on the board.

Man dies after beating for peeing near Freiburg church
The Johannes Church in Freiburg. Photo Jörgens Mi/Wikipedia

A middle-aged man from southern Germany has died after being attacked by a group of men who took umbrage with the fact he was urinating in the vicinity of a church.

The Local List
Seven German celebrities with uncanny doppelgängers
Former Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit and actor Alec Baldwin. Photo: DPA; Gage Skidmore, Wikimedia Commons

Check out these seven look-a-likes of well known German figures - we admit that some are more tenuous than others...

Israel seeks to buy three new German submarines: report
A Dolphin class submarine. Photo: DPA

Israel is seeking to buy three more advanced submarines from Germany at a combined price of €1.2 billion, an Israeli newspaper reported Friday.

Here’s where people live the longest in Germany
Photo: DPA

Germans down south seem to know the secret to a long life.

More Germans identify as LGBT than in rest of Europe
Photo: DPA

The percentage of the German population which identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is higher than anywhere else in Europe, according to a new study.

'Reichsbürger' pair attack police in Saxony-Anhalt
File photo: DPA.

A "Reichsbürger" and his wife attacked police officers on Thursday, just a day after another Reichsbürger fatally shot an officer in Bavaria.

Five things not to miss at the Frankfurt Book Fair
Photo: DPA

From consulting a book doctor to immersing yourself in an author's world with the help of virtual reality, here are five things not to miss at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest publishing event.

Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd