Chancellor Merkel is happy about the Union’s election result.
Comparisons with the Iron Lady are quickly made when a woman is repeatedly named one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But Chancellor Merkel has become an icon of our time because she doesn’t put herself too much in the spotlight.
When Angela Merkel took to the stage Sunday night after giving her party its best election result in decades, she looked like the exact opposite of a modern politician. The 59-year-old seemed flattered and unaware of her own importance as she beamed with a bouquet of flowers in her hand while her supporters cheered and chanted "Angie, Angie! chanted.
Nina dos Santos hosts the daily business show "World Business Today" on CNN International. At this point she is standing in for her colleague Jonathan Mann.
"This is a great result", she said. "I think we can all be proud." With the "we" Merkel was not referring to the pluralis maiestatis – a mistake once embarrassingly made by Margaret Thatcher – but to those 41.5 percent of German citizens who voted for the CDU/CSU. So much for the claim that modesty and power are mutually exclusive.
Since World War II, there have only been two chancellors before her who have been elected three times in a row. Compared to other titans who have been confirmed in office for the third time, such as Tony Blair, her speech was a rather modest affair.
With Merkel, there was no boastful grandstanding; there were no castles in the air or unrealistic announcements about moving heaven and earth, curing the economy and defeating child poverty. Instead, she thanked her husband as well as her supporters, pointing to the challenge of building a coalition in the days and weeks ahead. This is Merkel as she lives and breathes: unobtrusive, but purposeful – a strategy that is really refreshing for a change.
Moralist in a shabby world
After all, it’s not often that voters prefer consistency to charisma, especially in times of economic turmoil. Merkel’s distinctive approach of not putting herself too much in the spotlight has made her an icon of our time.
Comparisons to Britain’s Iron Lady are quickly made when a woman from "Time" magazine has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world several times. And as head of government of Europe’s richest state, she naturally also has great influence over the country’s finances.
But Merkel’s way of working, her modus operandi, is different. True, she may not care enough; some claim she does not try hard enough to reach consensus and compromise. And yet, one gets the impression that she makes her decisions out of personal conviction and not just to boost her popularity.
The daughter of a pastor, Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, is often seen as a moralist in the seedy world of international politics and gigantic egos. Perhaps that’s why she comes across as unnerving as a model student who always retreats to a corner to study and embarrasses everyone else when exam time approaches.
Love-hate relationship between "Mutti and the people
Her benevolent demeanor has served her well at home, where – though childless – she is praised for her gentle, caring image and where millions now even refer to her as "Mommie." designate.
But the relationship between mother and child can also be a love-hate relationship, which for Angela Merkel in turn means that she cannot bask complacently in glory; instead, goals must be achieved.
Relations between Germany and its partners on the international stage are also often difficult. And since politics is a world of smoke and mirrors, illusions and mirages, of greatness and power, it would be naive to assume that Merkel is inferior to her counterparts in this regard.
She has made mistakes and only very reluctantly admitted that she was wrong. The upside of Merkel’s subtle strategy is that her mistakes are harder to spot as long as the government operates under her radar.
Europe is more divided than ever
As the elected head of government of a country in Europe, she has carried her mandate far beyond the country’s borders, dictating humiliating terms to its crisis-stricken neighbors. At the same time, she has shied away from tackling sensitive foreign policy issues such as Mali or Syria.
Two terms with Merkel arguably saved Germany from the worst effects of the eurozone crisis. But the gap between rich and poor continues to grow in the country, and Merkel will have her hands full trying to rebalance the German economy and address the issue of low wages. Merkel will also have to answer the question of how factories and companies in Germany can be kept running without cheap nuclear power in the future.
Merkel’s second term may have led to a strong Germany, but Europe is more divided than ever. In her third term, the chancellor will probably have to focus more on reforms at home and less on abroad – probably much to the general relief of the rest of the European countries.
On the other hand, Germany’s first woman leader will probably continue to govern so calmly and unpretentiously. Regardless of whether one approves of her policies or not, Merkel’s electoral success for this reason is not only a victory for herself – but also a victory of content over style.