The schwäbische Hausfrau – southern Germany's thrifty Swabian housewife – is frequently invoked by Angela Merkel. The German chancellor argues that Europe has been living beyond its means and can learn from these women's frugal housekeeping and balanced budgeting.
persona au gratin: "You'd think the Germans would be a bit more cognizant of how their actions affect others on the continent."
"This is typical K.G.B. talk. Never trust this guy." Ulrich, of Die Zeit, said, "She’s always been skeptical of Putin, but she doesn’t detest him. Detesting would be too much emotion."
kokaku: "Is that true? I thought that Turks living in Germany for generations still did not have a path to citizenship."
since the year 2000, children born in Germany are entitled to adopt German citizenship if at least one parent has lived for eight years in Germany and has a perpetual residence permit.
In November, 1999, the C.D.U. was engulfed by a campaign-finance scandal, with charges of undisclosed cash donations and secret bank accounts. Kohl and his successor as Party chairman, Wolfgang Schäuble, were both implicated, but Kohl was so revered that nobody in the Party dared to criticize him. Merkel, who had risen to secretary-general after the C.D.U.’s electoral defeat, saw opportunity. She telephoned Karl Feldmeyer. “I would like to give some comments to you in your newspaper,” she said...
Feldmeyer suggested that, instead of doing an interview, she publish an opinion piece. Five minutes later, a fax came through, and Feldmeyer read it with astonishment. Merkel, a relatively new figure in the C.D.U., was calling for the Party to break with its longtime leader. “The Party must learn to walk now and dare to engage in future battles with its political opponents without its old warhorse, as Kohl has often enjoyed calling himself,” Merkel wrote. “We who now have responsibility for the Party, and not so much Helmut Kohl, will decide how to approach the new era.” She published the piece without warning the tainted Schäuble, the Party chairman. In a gesture that mixed Protestant righteousness with ruthlessness, Kohl’s Mädchen was cutting herself off from her political father and gambling her career in a naked bid to supplant him. She succeeded. Within a few months, Merkel had been elected Party chairman. Kohl receded into history. “She put the knife in his back—and turned it twice,” Feldmeyer said. That was the moment when many Germans first became aware of Angela Merkel.
Among German leaders, Merkel is a triple anomaly: a woman (divorced, remarried, no children), a scientist (quantum chemistry), and an Ossi (a product of East Germany). These qualities, though making her an outsider in German politics, also helped to propel her extraordinary rise. Yet some observers, attempting to explain her success, look everywhere but to Merkel herself. “There are some who say what should not be can’t really exist—that a woman from East Germany, who doesn’t have the typical qualities a politician should have, shouldn’t be in this position,” Göring-Eckardt, another woman from East Germany, said. “They don’t want to say she’s just a very good politician.” Throughout her career, Merkel has made older and more powerful politicians, almost all of them men, pay a high price for underestimating her.
...what made Merkel a potentially transformative figure in German politics was that, below the surface, she didn’t belong. She joined the Christian Democratic Union after Democratic Awakening merged with it, ahead of the 1990 elections; the C.D.U. was more hospitable than the Social Democrats were to liberal-minded East Germans. But the C.D.U. was also a stodgy patriarchy whose base was in the Catholic south. “She never became mentally a part of the C.D.U., until now,” Feldmeyer, of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, said. “She is strange to everything in the Party. It is only a function of her power, nothing else.”
Alan Posener, of the conservative newspaper Die Welt, told me, “The things that motivate the heartland of the C.D.U. don’t mean a thing to her”—concerns about “working mothers, gay marriage, immigration, divorce.” The same was true of the transatlantic alliance with America, the cornerstone of West German security: Posener said that she studied its details in “the C.D.U. manual.” Michael Naumann, a book publisher and journalist who served as culture minister under Schröder, said, “Her attitude toward the United States is a learned attitude.” Dirk Kurbjuweit, a biographer of Merkel and a correspondent for Der Spiegel, said, “Merkel really is a friend of freedom, because she suffered under not being free in the G.D.R. But in the other way she’s a learned democrat—not a born democrat, like Americans.” West German politicians of Merkel’s generation were shaped by the culture wars that followed the upheavals of 1968, which didn’t touch her at all.
One day in 1985, Merkel showed up at the office with the text of a speech by the West German President, Richard von Weizsäcker, given on the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Weizsäcker spoke with unprecedented honesty about Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust and declared the country’s defeat a day of liberation. He expressed a belief that Germans, in facing their past, could redefine their identity and future. In the West, the speech became a landmark on the country’s return to civilization. But in East Germany, where ideology had twisted the history of the Third Reich beyond recognition, the speech was virtually unknown. Merkel had procured a rare copy through her connections in the Church, and she was deeply struck by it.
In the past decade, Germany has become one of Russia’s largest trading partners, and Russia now provides Germany with forty per cent of its gas. Two hundred thousand Russian citizens live in Germany, and Russia has extensive connections inside the German business community and in the Social Democratic Party...
Later, Merkel interpreted Putin’s behavior. “I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man,” she told a group of reporters. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this...”
Merkel ruled out military options, yet declared that Russia’s actions were unacceptable—territorial integrity was an inviolable part of Europe’s postwar order—and required a serious Western response. For the first time in her Chancellorship, she didn’t have the public with her... Publicly, she said little, waiting for Russian misbehavior to bring the German public around. She needed to keep her coalition in the Bundestag on board, including the more pro-Russian Social Democrats. And she had to hold Europe together, which meant staying in close touch with twenty-seven other leaders and understanding each one’s constraints: how sanctions on Russia would affect London’s financial markets; whether the French would agree to suspend delivery of amphibious assault ships already sold to the Russians; whether Poland and the Baltic states felt assured of NATO’s support; the influence of Russian propaganda in Greece; Bulgaria’s dependence on Russian gas. For sanctions to bite, Europe had to remain united.
Merkel also needed to keep open her channel to Putin. Even after the E.U. passed its first round of sanctions, in March, it was not German policy to isolate Russia—the two countries are too enmeshed. Merkel is Putin’s most important interlocutor in the West; they talk every week, if not more often... Merkel can be tough to the point of unpleasantness, while offering Putin ways out of his own mess. Above all, she tries to understand how he thinks... Soon after the annexation of Crimea, Merkel reportedly told Obama that Putin was living “in another world.” She set about bringing him back to reality...
On at least one phone call, Putin lied to Merkel, something that he hadn’t done in the past. In May, after Ukrainian separatists organized a widely denounced referendum, the official Russian statement was more positive than the stance that Merkel believed she and Putin had agreed on in advance. She cancelled their call for the following week—she had been misled, and wanted him to sense her anger. “The Russians were stunned,” the senior official said. “How could she cut the link?” Germany was the one country that Russia could not afford to lose. Karl-Georg Wellmann, a member of parliament from Merkel’s party, who sits on the foreign-affairs committee, said that, as the crisis deepened and Germans began pulling capital out of Russia, Kremlin officials privately told their German counterparts that they wanted a way out: “We went too far—what can we do?”
The most daunting challenge of Merkel’s time in office has been the euro-zone crisis, which threatened to bring down economies across southern Europe and jeopardized the integrity of the euro. To Merkel, the crisis confirmed that grand visions can be dangerous. Kohl, who thought in historical terms, had tied Germany to a European currency without a political union that could make it work. “It’s now a machine from hell,” the senior official said. “She’s still trying to repair it...”
Under Schröder, Germany had instituted reforms in labor and welfare policies that made the country more competitive, and Merkel arrived just in time to reap the benefit. Throughout the crisis, Merkel buried herself in the economic details and refused to get out in front of what German voters—who tended to regard the Greeks as spendthrift and lazy—would accept, even if delaying prolonged the ordeal and, at key moments from late 2011 through the summer of 2012, threatened the euro itself...
In the end, under pressure from other European leaders and President Obama, Merkel endorsed a plan for the European Central Bank to prevent Greek sovereign default by buying bonds—much as the Federal Reserve had done during the U.S. financial crisis. In exchange, the countries of southern Europe submitted to strict budget rules and E.U. oversight of their central banks. Merkel realized that she could not allow the euro-zone crisis to capsize the project of European unity. “If the euro falls, then Europe falls,” she declared. The euro was saved, but at the price of ruinous austerity policies and high unemployment...
Merkel’s commitment to a united Europe is not that of an idealist. Rather, it comes from her sense of German interest—a soft form of nationalism that reflects the country’s growing confidence and strength. The historic German problem, which Henry Kissinger described as being “too big for Europe, too small for the world,” can be overcome only by keeping Europe together. Kurbjuweit said, “She needs Europe because—this is hard to say, but it’s true—Europe makes Germany bigger.” Yet Merkel’s austerity policies have helped make Europe weaker, and Europe’s weakness has begun affecting Germany, whose export-driven economy depends on its neighbors for markets. The German economy has slowed this year, while European growth is anemic. Nevertheless, Germany remains committed to a balanced budget in 2015, its first since 1969, and is standing in the way of a euro-zone monetary policy of stimulating growth by buying up debt...
Merkel is obsessed with demography and economic competitiveness. She loves reading charts. In September, one of her senior aides showed me a stack of them that the Chancellor had just been examining; they showed the relative performance of different European economies across a variety of indicators. In unit-labor costs, he pointed out, Germany lies well below the euro-zone average. But the population of Germany—the largest of any nation in Europe—is stagnant and aging. “A country like that cannot run up more and more debt,” the senior aide said.
Stefan Reinecke, of the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung, said, “Half an hour into every speech she gives, when everyone has fallen asleep, she says three things. She says Europe has just seven per cent of the world’s people, twenty-five per cent of the economic output, but fifty per cent of the social welfare—and we have to change this.” Merkel frets that Germany has no Silicon Valley. “There’s no German Facebook, no German Amazon,” her senior aide said. “There is this German tendency, which you can see in Berlin: we’re so affluent that we assume we always will be, even though we don’t know where it will come from. Completely complacent.”
It makes Germans acutely uneasy that their country is too strong while Europe is too weak, but Merkel never discusses the problem. Joschka Fischer—who has praised Merkel on other issues—criticizes this silence. “Intellectually, it’s a big, big challenge to transform national strength into European strength,” he said. “And the majority of the political and economic élite in Germany has not a clue about that, including the Chancellor.”
Merkel has neutralized the opposition, in large part by stealing its issues. She has embraced labor unions, lowered the retirement age for certain workers, and increased state payments to mothers and the old. (She told Dirk Kurbjuweit, of Der Spiegel, that, as Germany aged, she depended more on elderly voters.) In 2011, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, in Japan, shocked Merkel, and she reversed her position on nuclear power: Germany would phase it out through the next decade, while continuing to lead the world’s large industrial economies in solar and wind energy. (A quarter of the country’s energy now comes from renewable sources.) Meanwhile, she’s tried to rid her party of intolerant ideas—for example, by speaking out for the need to be more welcoming to immigrants. Supporters of the Social Democrats and the Greens have fewer and fewer reasons to vote at all, and turnout has declined. Schneider, a leading member of the generation of ’68, said, “This is the genius of Angela Merkel: she has actually made party lines senseless.”
While Orban says there’s no need for Hungary to do so, he is creating distance from Putin and celebrating ties with Germany as Chancellor Angela Merkel urges “patience and staying power” to overcome the crisis.
“Orban’s done a 180-degree turn on Ukraine,” Manuel Sarrazin, deputy chairman of the German-Hungarian group in the Berlin parliament, said by phone. “He realized with some prodding by Merkel that he’d seriously underestimated” the conflict and “he profoundly underestimated Merkel and the position Europe was taking behind her.”
The German chancellor believes the Russian leader is now a lost cause and Europe must unite to contain him
The German chancellor was deep in one of the 40 conversations she has had with the Russian president over the past year — more than the combined total with David Cameron, François Hollande and Barack Obama — when he began to rail against the “decadence” of the West.
Nothing exemplified this “decay of values” more than the West’s promotion of gay rights, Putin told her.
It was then, said sources close to Merkel, that she realised Europe and America should abandon all hope of finding a common language with the Kremlin and instead should adopt a policy of Cold War-style containment.
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