Last week, the Guardian published a piece by Jochen Hung on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s popularity in Germany. Despite being at the very centre of the Eurozone crisis (and copping her fair share of international flack), Frau Doktor Merkel has done very well for herself with polls revealing 70% of Germans still believe Merkel is the best person to save the Euro and 49% would elect Merkel if they could choose their head of government.
Merkel has always fascinated me as both a researcher and writer, I mean, when was the last time we heard someone accuse her of wearing an ill-fitting suit? (Although she did get caught wearing the same dress twice in four years) Any comparisons of domestic media treatments of Merkel and Gillard could be explained away by the nature of the German press versus our own or that very strictly speaking, Gillard and Merkel sit on different sides of the political spectrum.
As pointed out by the Guardian, a more fitting comparison is between Merkel and the original Iron Frau, Margaret Thatcher. And this is a comparison that has been made many times; both women were scientists before they were politicians and Merkel is now renowned for displaying Thatcherite like perseverance during the Eurozone crisis.
The difference between Merkel and Thatcher, as pointed out by Hung, is that Merkel currently enjoying levels of popularity that is normally reserved for the Queen. It is virtually impossible to separate Thatcher’s legacy from that that of the Conservative Party but as a survey by German public broadcaster ARD revealed, only 36% of Germans would vote for Merkel’s party if they were headed to the polls today. This effectively means that Merkel is moving away from being viewed as a politician and more towards being viewed as a non-partisan head of state.
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And it has not been an easy ride for the Chancellor as she has often been viewed at home and abroad as being the architect of the EU’s unpopular austerity measures including the recent Fiscal Compact. Her determination could also be viewed as obstinacy; recently PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), France, the European Commission and the Obama administration urged Germany to consider accepting Eurobonds (so collective borrowing within the Eurozone), bigger bailout funds for intervention in sovereign bond markets and a banking union.
Despite growing external pressure, Merkel did not budge. And the lady will not be for turning anytime soon; the relative weakness of the French economy means that new French President Francis Hollande would have a hard time trying to convince Germany to hand over the keys.
Regardless of international criticism Merkel has continually kept Germany’s interests at the forefront of every late-night negotiation and conference, and yelding to this external pressure could spell political suicide back home for Merkel. Until now the Germany economy appeared to have been relatively unaffected by the Eurozone crisis, with the German economy growing by 0.3 per cent last quarter.
This may justify Merkel’s refusal to budge but the reality is Germany alone cannot keep the Eurozone afloat. And with the 2013 German election now in sight, Merkel has an inevitable juggling act ahead of her; balancing her unique popularity at home the task of saving the Eurozone.