German Papers The German Chancellery Gets a Woman's Touch

In Berlin on Tuesday, Angela Merkel was voted in as Germany's first ever woman chancellor. While skepticism about the grand coalition she now leads remains, Merkel may bring a new style of leadership to Germany. Whereas Schröder was a prima donna, Merkel is a black belt in judo.


German President Horst Koehler and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after she was handed her letter of appointment on Tuesday.
AP

German President Horst Koehler and German Chancellor Angela Merkel after she was handed her letter of appointment on Tuesday.

It's the day that seemed as if it would never come. Today at 10:00 a.m. Germany's parliament voted Angela Merkel to become the country's first ever woman chancellor, as well as the country's first leader from former East Germany. At 2:00 p.m., she will be sworn in. For those who thought she had become Germany's chancellor weeks ago, you can be forgiven. Never before have coalition negotiations lasted so long in Germany and, one assumes, never before has a chancellor-in-waiting had his or her leadership credentials questioned as often as Merkel.

On Tuesday, though, that all seems forgotten as most of Germany's dailies devote large portions of their politics pages to Merkel, to her leadership style, to her "road to the chancellery" and to opinion pieces as to how well, or poorly, she might fare as post-war Germany's eighth chancellor. (Oddly, though, somebody forgot to let the Financial Times Deutschland know that Merkel was being elected today. She is nowhere to be found on the paper's Tuesday front page).

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung devotes space on pages 1, 2 and 3 to Merkel including a long piece taking a closer look at her leadership style. The last nine weeks, the paper points out, have been full of attempts to question her ability to lead. Yet by emerging as chancellor after those nine weeks, the paper argues, she has very definitely proven that ability. "She doesn't have either the physical presence of her predecessor (Helmut) Kohl, nor does she have the charismatic charm of her predecessor (Gerhard) Schröder. She has to replace both in that others recognize the simple fact that she has managed to rise all the way to the top." And that, the paper seems to indicate, may very well happen as a result of her unique leadership strategy. The trained physicist is very good at recognizing and then dealing with the facts with which she is presented and doesn't dwell on what might have been. "She deals with the conditions she has been given," the paper writes. "It's as if her desk has become the home of experiments in the political laboratory -- and the one wearing the chancellor's lab coat is trying out different variations to determine what is possible." The disadvantage of such a style, of course, is that many who have very clear goals and plans will become frustrated. But something will come out of her administration, and it could very well be something positive.

Germany's over-the-top tabloid Bild on Tuesday lives up to its shrill reputation via its daily "Post von Wagner" column, a short piece written by crazed-looking columnist Franz Josef Wagner. His piece is directed at Merkel's husband -- well-respected physicist Joachim Sauer -- and wonders, among other absurdities, "how one hugs such a powerful woman." But Bild isn't all fluff, and it also includes a piece on Tuesday by political scientist Arnulf Baring wondering whether Merkel will become a great chancellor. His answer? Yes. If, of course, history plays along. It fell to Konrad Adenauer to build the foundation of the republic, Willy Brandt improved relations with the Eastern Bloc, Helmut Schmidt guided the country through the terrorism if the RAF and Helmut Kohl reunited Germany. Merkel too could add her name to that prestigious list (a list from which Gerhard Schröder is missing) by bringing eastern and western Germany closer together, accelerating Germany's reform process, and refashioning Germany as a reliable partner to the United States. "Merkel has the tenacity and the strength a chancellor needs to do what's necessary, even if it is difficult."

The German media has been all over the place this autumn when reporting on Merkel's path from election to the chancellery, having been alternately incredibly pessimistic about a coalition pairing Merkel's Christian Democrats with the Social Democrats and cautiously optimistic about the same. The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday reverts to the former saying that "there is no optimism, much less joy, to be felt as the grand coalition takes over the government." That has to do with the two huge hurdles facing the coalition. The first is the need to balance the budget, "which would be easier if a majority of citizens saw it as a collective problem rather than as one solely of the country's politicians." The second hurdle is the mistrust within the coalition itself. And then, of course, there is a third. Namely, the media. The paper points out that the media has created a climate of critique that makes it hard for the government to do much of anything right. But while the media must claim some responsibility for that climate, Merkel's government must as well. "If there is not trust at the cabinet table and among the country's political parties, Germany's citizens will not develop any trust in this government."

The conservative daily Die Welt likewise devotes a ton of space to Merkel and plasters six pictures of Germany's new chancellor on its front page. Next to the spread is an editorial entitled "Merkel's Moment." She is not, the paper argues, to be envied for the task that she now faces. "The country is ill from problems that several governments caused, managed and ignored. The situation facing Merkel is less complicated than the detail-obsessed public debate makes it seem." The paper sees the largest problem as a bloated public sector and a populace that is not given much in the way of individual responsibility. "If there is a lesson from German history, then it's this: Germany doesn't need more, but rather less awe and respect for the state."

The financial daily Handelsblatt slaps a photo-montage of Merkel on its front page with the US flag as its background. The headline: "US Government Has High Hopes for Merkel." The commentary next to it, however, focuses on the new leadership style that Merkel will bring to Berlin. She is, in short, totally different from Schröder in that she disdains the theatrical and instead emphasizes the sober act of governance. "For too long under Gerhard Schröder, the belief in miracles set the tone in Berlin -- that the country's problems could be solved with a couple of brilliant ideas. With Merkel, one can hope for solid competence that is based on reality and on the idea that politics and policy must be thought through carefully while keeping in mind the end goal." But in addition to being less flashy than Schröder, she is also very good at realpolitik. "Her political style in the recent power struggles has resembled that of a judo fighter: Her opponents -- most recently Edmund Stoiber -- have fallen by virtue of their own momentum."

Finally, the Financial Times Deutschland chooses to not only ignore Merkel on its front pages, but also largely on its editorial page, preferring instead to focus on the grand coalition of which she is now the head. And the paper is not optimistic. It points out that Merkel is making Spartan savings its advertising slogan. But if it is not accompanied by a larger, strategic plan, the overall success of Merkel's government is doubtful. "Questions of structure have remained taboo. Instead, the only goal seems to be squeezing as much money as possible out of the existing structures."

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