In the world’s politics German Chancellors have always remain a dominant figure. They have been influencing every major event occurring on the planet at any given time.
The incumbent German chancellor Angela Merkel is unable to deflect the spotlight. One of the most self-effacing individuals in a line of business that tends to attract people of quite a different stamp, Ms Merkel is the elite of the elite. It is her chairmanship, her diplomacy and her leadership by which her reign will be judged.
Its success will be her success, its failure her failure. The low profile taken so far by Germany’s first woman Chancellor; however; is deceptive. Half-way through her second year in office, Ms Merkel is riding a wave of popularity at home. She is in complete charge of her party and her governing coalition. Despite predictions that she would never last six months as Chancellor given the slimness of her electoral majority and the ambitious politicians around her she has not only survived , but flourished.
She has carried through every project she has undertaken – including some denounced as impossible (tackling health service spending) or ill-advised (a rise in VAT). Her patience and single mindedness are becoming legendary, as is her ability – shaded of Margaret Thatcher here – to gain a thorough mastery of every controversial brief. Germany’s economy, which for so long was Europe’s laggard, is on the way to overtaking Britain’s in terms of growth. Unemployment, long Germanys most intractable problem has finally begun to fall.
It can be debated, of course, how much Ms Merkel’s success in turning around Germany’s economy is a delayed response to the unpopular labour market reforms introduced by her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder – reforms which arguable cost him his job. But successful politicians need luck almost as much as they need courage, competence, and judgment. And fortune has not always smiled on Ms Merkel.
It is hard now to remember the lackluster campaign she waged in 2005, a campaign that almost cost her an election that had been hers to lose. It is hard, too, to recall the near-tied result that tempted Mr Schroeder to try to cling to office, or the fragility of her first couple of months. This is all in the past. Today, Germans are finding that their unflashy chancellor, whose few indulgences have been a sleeker haircut and some brighter jackets, suits them just as well, if not better, than the showman who occupied the Chancellory before her.
The question now is whether Ms Merkel can extend the personal authority she has won at home to the international stage.