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POLITICS

Merkel, the eternal Chancellor now past her zenith

Angela Merkel has survived multiple crises but her obstacle-strewn path to a fourth term has prompted suggestions she is past her peak, leaving Germans to ponder life without the veteran chancellor.

Merkel, the eternal Chancellor now past her zenith
Photo: DPA

After 12 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economy, the leader who is often called the world's most powerful woman is facing a battle for her political survival – and all she can do is wait.

Her hope of forming a new government now lies with some 460,000 rank-and-file members of the centre-left Social Democrats, who will vote on whether to approve a hard-fought coalition deal hammered out with her conservative bloc.

Organising the postal ballot is slated to take around three weeks, prolonging the uncertainty that has dogged Germany and drained Merkel's influence since September's inconclusive general election.

Merkel's CDU/CSU alliance won those polls but scored its worst result since 1949, while the far-right made huge inroads capitalising on anger over her open-door refugee policy.

With Merkel locked in the longest period of coalition-building in Germany's postwar history, talk of “the erosion” of her power has dominated the headlines.

Even if the SPD hands the 63-year-old another stint as chancellor, commentators are predicting she will not serve a full four-year term, fuelling speculation about potential successors.

“Angela Merkel is past her zenith,” political analyst Oskar Niedermayer told the financial daily Handelsblatt last month.

If the SPD torpedoes her plans, Merkel faces the prospect of snap elections or heading an unstable minority government – anathema to the famously cautious and cerebral leader.

Polls suggest Germans are split down the middle on Merkel, with 51 percent saying they want her to stay on as chancellor.

Although her time in power is “obviously nearing its end”, Germans appear torn between “Merkel fatigue” and fear of change, Der Spiegel weekly wrote.

'Leader of free world'

Merkel may be down, but few are counting her out just yet.

During her long rule, the pastor's daughter raised behind the Iron Curtain has been derided as Europe's “austerity queen”, cheered as a saviour by refugees and hailed as the new “leader of the free world”.

In the turbulent times of US President Trump's rise to power, Brexit and multiple global crises, she was long seen as the bedrock in a country concerned with maintaining its enviable growth and employment rates.

Germans have thanked her by keeping her in power ever since she became their youngest and first female chancellor in 2005.

“Mutti” (Mummy) Merkel, with her pragmatic, modest and reassuringly bland style, seemed to have perfected the art of staying in power in a wealthy, ageing nation that tends to favour continuity over change.

Seemingly devoid of vanity and indifferent to the trappings of power, she lives in a Berlin flat with her media-shy scientist husband Joachim Sauer, shops in a local supermarket and spends holidays hiking in the Alps.

Though frequently criticised for sitting out tough challenges, Merkel has punctuated her reign with bold decisions – from scrapping nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, to opening German borders to more than a million asylum seekers since 2015.

'Merkelvellian'

Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in the northern port city of Hamburg.

Weeks later her father, a leftist Lutheran clergyman, moved the family to a small town in the communist East at a time when most people were headed the other way.

Biographers say life in a police state taught Merkel to hide her true thoughts behind a poker face.

Like most students, she joined the state's socialist youth movement but rejected an offer to inform for the Stasi secret police while also staying clear of risky pro-democracy activism.

A top student, she excelled in Russian, which would later help her keep up the dialogue with President Vladimir Putin. He was a KGB officer in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

During that momentous upheaval, Merkel joined the nascent Democratic Awakening group. It later merged with the Christian Democrats (CDU) of then-chancellor Helmut Kohl, who fondly if patronisingly dubbed Merkel his “girl”.

Merkel's mentor was not the last politician to underestimate her and pay the price.

When Kohl became embroiled in a campaign finance scandal in 1999, Merkel openly urged her party to drop the self-declared “old warhorse”.

The move, which has been described as “Merkelvellian”, sparked her meteoric rise.

Before September's election she was seen as likely to exceed the 16-year reign of Kohl – but given her current struggles to build a new government, all bets are off.

POLITICS

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

G7 leaders are meeting in Bavaria to discuss important issues including Russia's war on Ukraine and the food crisis. The event is known for producing memorable pictures. Here's a look at the best images and tweets so far.

IN PICTURES: Germany hosts G7 summit with Bavarian twist

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The Group of Seven wealthy nations is holding their annual summit in the stunning surroundings of the Bavarian Alps. 

The world leaders are engaged in talks at the Schloss Elmau with a focus on Russia’s war on Ukraine, climate change, energy, the global food crisis and rising inflation. 

The G7 gatherings are known known for producing some memorable photos and amusing moments, and this year is no exception. Here’s a look at the best so far. 

When the G7 summit started on Sunday, the southern state of Bavaria became the standout attraction. 

Leaders of the nations involved – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the USA – were given traditional Bavarian welcomes. 

Spearheaded by Bavarian premier Markus Söder, the leaders were greeted by people clad in Bavarian costumes, such as the dirndl. 

It sparked heated debates on how Germany is portrayed to the rest of the world.  

READ ALSO: Can Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Journalist Mathieu von Rohr said on Twitter: “It’s hard to imagine what Söder would have done to Germany’s image in the world as chancellor.”

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costumes after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Daniel Karmann

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, walks past people wearing traditional Bavarian costume after his arrival at Munich airport on June 26th.

The left wing newspaper Taz on Monday led with a front page that included this headline: “Finally, indigenous peoples at the G7 summit”.

READ ALSO: Why Bavaria does politics differently to the rest of Germany

The photo of US President Joe Biden signing his name in the Bavarian guest book to Germany produced lots of good captions. 

Nathan Ma poked fun at Germany’s infamous overly complicated contracts that are hard to get out of.

Commentators in Germany have also been making their views known about the events at the summit. 

German broadcaster BR said in an opinion article that the opening G7 event was “like a Monty Python sketch”.

Writer Max Büch said: “Yes, it’s embarrassing that Joe Biden is being coerced by Markus Söder to sign the guestbook at the airport.”

He added: “But people in traditional costume are not embarrassing per se. Even if taz’s ‘indigenous peoples at the G7 summit’ is meant satirically, the title hits a very true core of the image that the rest of Germany still has of Bavaria.”

The southern German traditions continued with Schuhplattler, a traditional style of folk dance popular in the regions of Bavaria and Tyrol. 

“Bavaria makes up perhaps 10 percent of Germany,” one journalist said in another tweet on the Schuhplattler video. “But 90 percent of people abroad think this is all of us.

Bavarian premier Markus Söder defended the opening ceremony. 

He said on Twitter: “Bavaria is the land of homeland and custom: many thanks to our traditional costume associations, musicians and mountain riflemen for their support in welcoming the G7 heads of state. They present the Free State and our traditions with great pride. It was a great backdrop.”

Like every year, the pictures of G7 leaders joking around and getting up, close and personal have also been commented on.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler
 
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz signals to the other G7 leaders during a photo shoot at Elmau.
 
We’d love to be a fly on the wall for the private conversations being held between the leaders. Here German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on in amusement at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Elmau on June 26th.

The lack of women G7 leaders was also commented on. 

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