, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania , Germany
|| July 17, 1954
Feb 24, 2013 12:18am
Caucasian - German - Moderate-to-Conservative - Anti-Death Penalty - Pro-Choice - Pro-Missile Defense - Christian - Lutheran - Protestant - Straight -
|Info||Dr. Angela Dorothea Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. As a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) she leads a coalition with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and with the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The coalition was formed after two months of negotiations following the 2005 federal election. |
Merkel, elected to the German Parliament from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, has been the chairwoman of the CDU since 2000, and Chairwoman of the CDU-CSU parliamentary party group from 2002 to 2005. She is the first female Chancellor of Germany, the first former citizen of the GDR to lead the re-unified Germany and the first woman to lead Germany since it became a modern nation state in 1871.
Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg, the daughter of Horst Kasner, a Lutheran pastor, and his wife Herlind (née Jentzsch), a teacher. In 1954 her father received a pastorship at the church in Quitzow at Perleberg, and the family moved to Templin. Merkel grew up in the countryside only 80km (50 mi) north of Berlin, in the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). She was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical chemistry of the Academy of Sciences during (1978-1990). After graduating with a doctorate in physics she worked in quantum chemistry.
In 1989, she got involved in the growing democracy movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Demokratischer Aufbruch. Following the first (and only) democratic election in the GDR, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new government under Lothar de Maizière. At the first post-reunification general election in December 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag from a constituency which includes the districts of Nordvorpommern and Rügen, as well as the city of Stralsund. Her party merged with the west German CDU and she became Minister for Women and Youth in Helmut Kohl's cabinet. In 1994, she was made Minister for the Environment and Reactor Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform on which to build her political career. As one of Kohl's protégées and his youngest cabinet minister, she was referred to as "das Mädchen" ("the girl") by Kohl.
According to an article in Der Spiegel, her background in the former GDR has served her well in post-reunification politics. For the first 36 years of her life, she honed her skills at disguising her inner thoughts and feelings — essential for survival in a society where every room might contain a State Security Police (Stasi) informer, and especially for a pastor's daughter. Speaking near-perfect English and remarking on her background as an "Ossi", she says: "Anyone who really has something to say doesn't need make-up." Besides English Angela Merkel speaks Russian fluently.
From 1977 until their divorce in 1982, she was married to physicist Ulrich Merkel. Since 1998, she has been married to Berlin chemistry professor Joachim Sauer and has no children.
When the Kohl government was defeated in the 1998 general election, Merkel was named Secretary-General of the CDU. In this position, Merkel oversaw a string of Christian Democrat election victories in six out of seven provincial elections in 1999 alone, breaking the SPD-Green coalition's hold on the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the states. Following a party financing scandal which compromised many leading figures of the CDU (most notably Kohl himself and then-party chairman Wolfgang Schäuble, Kohl's hand-picked successor), Merkel criticized her former mentor, Kohl, and advocated a fresh start for the party without him. She was elected to replace Schäuble, becoming the first female chair of her party, on April 10, 2000. Her election surprised many observers, as her personality offered a contrast to the party she had been chosen to lead; Merkel is a Protestant woman, originating from predominantly Protestant northern Germany, while the CDU is a male-dominated, socially conservative party with deep Catholic roots, and has its stronghold in southern Germany. In November of 2001, despite her pledge to clean up the party, she refused to hold further inquiries into the financing scandal.
Following Merkel's selection as CDU leader, she enjoyed considerable popularity among the German population and was favoured by Germans to become Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's challenger in the 2002 election. However, she was unpopular in her own party and particularly its sister party (the Bavarian Christian Social Union, or CSU), and was subsequently out-manoeuvred politically by CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, who had had the privilege of challenging Schröder but squandered a large lead in the opinion polls to lose narrowly. After Stoiber's defeat in 2002, in addition to her role as CDU chairwoman, Merkel became leader of the conservative opposition in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, who had held the post of parliamentary leader prior to the 2002 election, was eased out to make way for Merkel.
Merkel supported a substantial reform agenda concerning Germany's economic and social system and was considered to be more pro-free market (and pro-deregulation) than her own party (the CDU); she advocated changes to German labour law, specifically, removing barriers to firing employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week, arguing that existing laws made the country less competitive because companies cannot easily control labour costs at times when business is slow.  She argued for Germany's nuclear power to be phased out less quickly than the Schröder administration had planned.
Merkel advocated a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. In the spring of 2003, defying strong public opposition, Merkel came out in favour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing it as "unavoidable" and accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of anti-Americanism. This led some critics to characterize her as an American lackey. She criticised the government's support for Turkish Membership in the European Union and favoured a "privileged partnership" instead. In doing so, she was seen as being in unison with an overwhelming majority of Germans in rejecting Turkish membership in the European Union, particularly due to fears that large waves of immigration may impose an unbearable burden on Germany and that there would be too much Islamist influence within the EU.
In the English language as well as the German press, Merkel has been compared by many to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, each a female politician from centre-right parties, as well as scientist. Some have referred to her as "Iron Lady" or "Iron Girl" (alluding to Thatcher); despite the name, some political commentators see little similarity between their respective agendas.
On May 30, 2005, she won the CDU/CSU nomination as challenger to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD in the 2005 national elections. Her party began the campaign with a 21% lead over the SPD in national opinion polls, although her personal popularity lagged behind that of the incumbent. However, the CDU/CSU campaign suffered when Merkel, having made economic competence central to the CDU's platform, she confused gross and net income twice during a televised debate. She regained some momentum after she announced that she would appoint Paul Kirchhof, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court and leading fiscal policy expert, as Minister of Finance.
Both Merkel herself and the CDU again lost ground significantly after Kirchhof proposed the introduction of a flat tax in Germany, again undermining the party's credibility on economic affairs and convincing many voters that the CDU's platform of deregulation was designed to benefit only the rich. This was compounded by Merkel proposing to increase VAT to reduce Germany's deficit and fill the gap in revenue from a flat tax. The SPD were able to increase their support simply by pledging not to introduce flat taxes or increase VAT. Although Merkel's standing recovered after she distanced herself from Kirchhof's proposals, she remained considerably less popular than Schröder, and the CDU's lead was down to 9% on the eve of the election. Merkel was also criticized for plagiarizing a passage from a speech used by President Ronald Reagan in a 1980 US presidential debate for her own television election duel with Gerhard Schröder, the Social Democratic chancellor.
On September 18, Merkel's CDU/CSU and Schröder's SPD went head-to-head in the national elections, with the CDU/CSU winning 35.2% (CDU 27.8%/CSU 7.4%) of the second votes to the SPD's 34.2%. Neither the SPD-Green coalition nor the CDU/CSU and its preferred coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party, held enough seats to form a majority in the Bundestag, and both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory. A Grand Coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD faced the challenge that both parties demanded the chancellorship. However, after three weeks of negotiations, the two parties reached a deal whereby Merkel would become Chancellor and the SPD would hold 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet. The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on November 14. Merkel was elected Chancellor by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November, but 51 members of the governing coalition voted against her or abstained.
Reports have indicated that the Grand Coalition will pursue a mix of policies, some of which directly contradict aspects of Merkel's political platform as leader of the opposition and candidate for Chancellor. The coalition intends to cut public spending whilst increasing VAT, social insurance contributions and the top rate of income tax. Employment protection will no longer cover employees during their first two years in a job, pensions will be frozen and subsidies for first-time home buyers will be scrapped. On foreign policy, Germany will maintain its strong ties with France and eastern European states, particularly Russia, and will continue its support for Turkey one day joining the European Union. However it is unlikely Germany will push for a lifting of the EU embargo on arms sales to the People's Republic of China, as Merkel has repeatedly stated her opposition to such a move.
Merkel has stated that the main aim of her government will be to reduce unemployment, and that it is this issue on which her government will be judged.
Her first foreign trip took place the day after she was sworn in as Chancellor, and went to Paris for a meeting with Jacques Chirac. In his speech, Chirac emphasized the importance of the Franco-German Axis for Europe. After the meeting with Chirac, she travelled to Brussels for talks with EU leaders and the Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.
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