Who is Mrs Merkel?
By Alberto Mingardi
Mrs Merkel won the German elections by a landslide, gaining an impressive 41.5% of votes. However, the most notable unintended consequence of Mrs Merkel’s triumph is that both the other right-of-the-center parties, the liberals of the FDP and the newly formed Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which campaigned challenging the wisdom of current European policies concerning indebted states, did not pass the threshold to enter the Parliament. Mrs Merkel is thus most likely now to form a coalition with the socialists of the SPD, that she spectacularly defeated in the ballot box.
However, the question of the day to me is: who is Mrs Merkel?
Wolfgang Munchau, on the Financial Times, describes her (not approvingly) as an archconservative fiscal hawk:
Angela Merkel owes this weekend’s electoral success to her ability to persuade voters she is a safe pair of hands in economic policy. (…) It may appear intuitively true that a safe pair of hands balances the budget each year; refuses to accept bailouts, let alone forgive debt; and rejects joint-liability instruments on the grounds that they encourage overspending.
Then Mr Munchau goes on in confuting these “intuitions” – but that’s not what I am concerned with, here. I would like to point out that another German author Josef Joffe on the Wall Street Journal presents the readers with a different portrait of Mrs Merkel. Commenting on the demise of the liberal FDP, he notes:
Germans are left with four parties in power that range from pale-pink (the Christian Democrats) to the reddish (the Social Democrats and Greens) to the deep-red (Die Linke). They all–even the Christian Democrats–add up to a wall-to-wall social-democratic consensus. The hallmark of this consensus is an all-providing state that taxes, spends and regulates.
The differences between these parties are not about principles, but about numbers: how much child support, how high the minimum wage, how many taxes, how much redistribution? In other words, Europe’s richest and most successful country has opted for a kind of gilded status quo. The unspoken message is: Spare me the risk, toil and trouble, never mind rampant technological change and the chaos just beyond Europe’s borders.
Entering her third and probably last term, Mrs. Merkel perfectly represents this view–this is why she reaped her fantastic victory.
So, is Mrs Merkel a balance-the-budget fanatic or a right-wing social democrat? She belongs to the ideological (for the lack of a better word) family of Christian-Democrats, but that doesn’t say much. We have seen Christian-Democrats that were, in fact, classical liberals, and others that were slightly to the left of Fidel Castro.
In a way, it is astonishing that a politician who is entering her third term in office remains so enigmatic – so that her views can be interpreted in such dramatic different ways.