Arrivederci Angela! Merkel stops campaign for summer holiday

July 21, 2009

Just imagine the outcry if Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain had suddenly gone off on their own separate two-week vacations to, say, Mexico, just two months before the November election? Irresponsible! Reckless! Shirkers! Those and as well as other unprintable terms might be among the comments hurled their way.

Yet as unfathomable as it may be for candidates in the United States or many other countries to take a long holiday break so close to an election, in Germany it is just as inconceivable for politicians to continue to campaign actively during the summer holiday season — even if the election is just around the corner. Begging for votes while their countrymen are relaxing on the beach is simply verboten for Germans.

That is why Chancellor Angela Merkel will be disappearing on holiday to a secretive location for the next 2-1/2 weeks while her challenger, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has already left the country, spending several weeks away from the campaign trail on holiday in the Italian Alps. Campaigning during the summer holiday would only be counter-productive, political strategists and analysts say, even if the outcome of the Sept. 27 election is wide open.

Germans do indeed take their holidays seriously — just think of the cliche about all those Germans rising before dawn in Mediterranean holiday resorts to reserve the deck chairs by the pool with their towels. Many Germans only laugh at you when you ask what happened to the “German work ethic”? There is even a federal law, the Bundesurlaubsgesetz, that governs every imagineable aspect of leave eligibility and duration. Most Germans get at least six weeks leave each year, which is one of the reasons they they sometimes call themselves Weltmeister (world champions) when it comes to travel — 64 percent take their holidays abroad each year.

Over the years I’ve watched some candidates, such as Helmut Kohl, try to beat the conventional wisdom of “Thou Shalt Not Campaign During Holidays in Germany”. In 1998 Kohl was far behind his challenger Gerhard Schroeder. Seemingly out of desperation, Kohl held some low-key campaign rallies on Baltic beaches. The sight of Kohl in a suit and tie giving a stump speech to holidaymakers sporting bikinis and speedos is something that I’ll never forget, and  interrupting peoples’ vacations didn’t help Kohl any — he lost the election two months later.

However, while Merkel and Steinmeier will be out of the country, they will certainly not be out of touch. Both will give a few relaxed-sounding interviews from their holiday cottages to selected German networks, as well as leading newspapers and magazines. Both will also make sure there are enough photo ops of relaxed-looking political leaders on holiday, although Merkel will be careful to avoid another photo op mishap like in 2006 when the British tabloid the Sun published paparazzi pictures of Merkel changing into her swimsuit in Italy.

PHOTO – Angela Merkeland her husband Joachim Sauer arrive for the Wagner opera festival in the northern Bavarian town of Bayreuth during her holiday in this July 25, 2005 file photo.

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