Merkel: From austerity queen to ‘leader of the free world’
A pastor’s daughter raised behind the Iron Curtain, Germany’s Angela Merkel has defied predictions to become Europe’s most powerful politician and, some argue, the new “leader of the free world”. As the West is badly shaken by Donald Trump’s White House win, the Brexit vote and the rise of shrill populism, many see the pragmatic, no-nonsense chancellor as the last voice of reason on a chaotic global stage. The unruffled, some say bland, style of the trained physicist has seen Merkel, 62, lead Europe’s top economy through the storms of the eurozone crisis, tensions with Russia and a historic refugee influx.
During her marathon 11 years in power she has seen world leaders come and go, including George W. Bush, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Jacques Chirac, and soon Barack Obama and Francois Hollande. Next year she will seek another four-year term in office. Once derided as Europe’s “austerity queen”, she recently earned kudos when she reminded Trump that cooperation must be based on “democracy, freedom and respect for the law and the dignity of man”.
International newspapers declared Merkel the new torch-bearer of liberal democracy, and outgoing US President Obama called her his closest partner saying: “If I were German and I had a vote, I might support her.” In a signature show of modesty, Merkel waved off the many accolades as “grotesque and absurd”. Days later, she told her centre-right CDU party she was up to the challenge of running again, declaring dutifully that “many people would not be very understanding if I failed to use all of my experience to do my duty for Germany”.
Behind the Wall
With a doctorate in quantum chemistry, Merkel is known for a methodical approach to problem-solving, rather than for soaring oratory or big-vision statements. 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. Germans seem to like it that way, given how past ideologues have plunged the country into catastrophe, and have re-elected “Mutti” (Mummy) twice since 2005. Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in the port city of Hamburg.