Fe­male duo who stay in shad­ows but have Merkel on track for fourth term

Few have heard of the two women who help the chan­cel­lor run Ger­many

The Irish Times - - World News - Derek Scally

The great­est mis­con­cep­tion about mod­ern Ger­many is that it is run by a woman. In fact, it’s run by three women.

Enter Ber­lin’s hulk­ing chan­cellery, take the curved metal­lic green lift to the sev­enth floor, and the eye is im­me­di­ately drawn to the panoramic view over the Ger­man cap­i­tal. Less flashy but far more in­ter­est­ing is the win­dow­less cor­ri­dor on the other side, lined with red­dish beech­wood doors, where the Merkel trio work.

Af­ter 12 years in power, ev­ery­one knows An­gela Merkel, the chan­cel­lor. Be­yond Ber­lin’s par­lia­men­tary bub­ble, how­ever, few have ever heard of Beate Bau­mann and Eva Chris­tiansen. To­gether with Merkel, they com­prise a re­mark­able po­lit­i­cal trio that ex­plain why the chan­cel­lor is on course to win next Sun­day’s fed­eral elec­tion. Just don’t ex­pect Merkel’s pub­lic­ity-shy ad­vis­ers to ever go on the record about it.

Three doors down from Merkel’s sprawl­ing of­fice is that of Bau­mann. Her job ti­tle is “of­fice man­ager”, but in re­al­ity the 54-year-old from Lower Sax­ony is far more. She first met Merkel in 1992, when the young min­is­ter was laid up in hos­pi­tal with a bro­ken leg, ex­hausted by pol­i­tics and in need of a ca­pa­ble as­sis­tant. An ac­quain­tance men­tioned Bau­mann; the women met, clicked, and have been in­sep­a­ra­ble ever since.

Risky move

They sealed their co-op­er­a­tion pact at the end of 1999 when, to­gether, they wrote a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle ar­gu­ing that Hel­mut Kohl, the ex-chan­cel­lor and Merkel’s men­tor, had dam­aged their Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU) with il­le­gal fundrais­ing.

It was a risky move but, four months later, Merkel was CDU leader and at her side was Beate Bau­mann.

A fan of prac­ti­cal hair cuts, out­fits and shoes, Bau­mann lurks on the fringes – never the spot­light – of pub­lic events with the chan­cel­lor. She has never given an in­ter­view about her work – and never will.

“Bau­mann is Merkel’s po­lit­i­cal al­ter-ego,” says one per­son who’s known her for years. “She’s her ad­viser, strate­gist, point woman, the woman who con­tra­dicts her and early on, if nec­es­sary, was the one who told Merkel to pull her­self to­gether.”

They may have worked to­gether


A fan of prac­ti­cal hair cuts, out­fits and shoes, Bau­mann lurks on the fringes

for more than 20 years, the doors link­ing their of­fices of­ten open, but the two women have never moved be­yond the for­mal “Sie” form to first-name terms. De­spite this, theirs is a “sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship”, says Dr Hugo Müller-Vogg, a jour­nal­ist and long-time Merkel watcher. “Bau­mann has a nose for lurk­ing dan­gers,” he says. “She would do any­thing for Merkel. For Bau­mann, Merkel is her life’s work.”

At the op­po­site end of Ber­lin’s most pow­er­ful cor­ri­dor is the of­fice of Eva Chris­tiansen. The 47-year-old from Cologne stud­ied eco­nomics in Bonn, joined the CDU 20 years ago and, in 2002, joined Merkel’s team in the party’s head­quar­ters.

A slim woman with blonde hair and pen­e­trat­ing blue eyes, she is the chan­cel­lor’s eyes and ears, watch­ing me­dia and so­ci­etal trends and en­sur­ing the Ger­man leader over­looks noth­ing.

“Bau­mann and Chris­tiansen op­er­ate as per­ma­nent feed­back loop and en­joy Merkel’s com­plete trust to con­front her with neg­a­tive things,” says An­dreas Rinke of Reuters Ber­lin and a long-time Merkel watcher.

Chris­tiansen was be­hind the Merkel chan­cellery’s em­brace of po­lit­i­cal “nudg­ing”, a con­cept that uses pos­i­tive re­in­force­ment to achieve non-forced com­pli­ance with pol­icy.

Ber­lin’s va­ri­ety of nudg­ing is called “ef­fec­tive gov­er­nance” and less in­tru­sive, of­fi­cials say, but still uses the ser­vices of a psy­chol­o­gist and be­havioural econ­o­mist. Their task: to pre­vent pol­icy be­ing buried by bu­reau­cracy and missed by its tar­get au­di­ence. A re­mark­able fea­ture of Merkel’s in­ner cir­cle – even when you ex­tend it to the men (chief of staff, press spokesman and sec­tion heads) – is how in­tact and loyal it has re­mained. Its mem­bers are all re­mark­ably con­sis­tent on what they say about their boss: she is de­mand­ing but fair and doesn’t play peo­ple off against each other.

The art of the pos­si­ble

Be­sides sat­is­fied staff, an­other rea­son why the Merkel ma­chine still op­er­ates smoothly is that it ig­nored the Alas­tair Camp­bell school of po­lit­i­cal spin and mes­sag­ing. In­stead, her two ad­vis­ers have de­vel­oped their own model that ac­com­mo­dates the chan­cel­lor’s lim­i­ta­tions, rather than forc­ing her into a Blairite style of gov­ern­ing that doesn’t fit.

Jour­nal­ists de­spair at Merkel’s speeches, func­tional blocks of text of­ten moulded by Bau­mann, but they fill a gap.

Chris­tiansen, mean­while, has moved the chan­cel­lor be­yond tra­di­tional speeches – never her strong point – into for­mats bet­ter suited to her tal­ents, such as town­hall meet­ings. Cru­cially, un­like other western gov­ern­ments, the Merkel trio have lit­tle faith in high-end pro­duc­tion val­ues. The rule on the sev­enth floor of Ber­lin’s chan­cellery is this: do your home­work and cover even­tu­al­ity, be­cause no amount of stage magic can res­cue you. For the Ber­lin trio, re­cent Bri­tish pol­i­tics from Blair to Brexit are in­struc­tive in the dan­gers of style over sub­stance. Af­ter three terms in the chan­cellery, the Merkel-Bau­mann-Chris­tiansen trio have per­fected mod­ern pol­i­tics as the art of the pos­si­ble. Their pitch to vot­ers on Septem­ber 24th – that Merkel has an eye on the big and small things – is a mes­sage in tune with a Zeit­geist that longs for sta­bil­ity in an un­sta­ble world.

Opin­ions may dif­fer on whether the trio’s ap­proach is am­bi­tious enough for Ger­many’s looming chal­lenges – from de­mo­graph­ics to digi­ti­sa­tion – but no one, least of all the Merkel-Bau­mann-Chris­tiansen trio, ex­pected their power play to be so suc­cess­ful. Long be­fore Merkel won the 2005 snap elec­tion, Hugo Müller-Vogg re­mem­bers Beate Bau­mann telling him how mod­ern pol­i­tics was so fast-mov­ing, and mod­ern vot­ers so fickle, that eight years in of­fice was the max­i­mum any­one could hope for.

“No one would ever again match Hel­mut Kohl’s 16 years, she told me, and yet here we are,” he adds. “It con­tin­ues to work be­cause they take things as they come. There is no grand de­sign.”


Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel with her of­fice man­ager Beate Bau­mann af­ter the TV de­bate with the SDP’s Martin Schulz two weeks ago.

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