The two faces of Angela Merkel
But at home in Germany, Merkel has been surprisingly timid on many key issues – especially when they involve her conservative Christian Democrats. Her tendency to avoid clear positions has driven her coalition partners mad. Merkel might be a lion when she’s on foreign stages but she tends to be a lamb at home. One of her favourite sayings is: “If you try to beat your head into a wall, the wall will usually win.”
Merkel’s latest evasive action centres on another woman in her party, Erika Steinbach. Ostensibly, it’s a relatively minor issue about a seat on the board of a new museum about the plight of German World War Two refugees. But in reality it is an issue that reverberates deeply in Merkel’s conservative party as well as across Germany’s eastern border in Poland.
The League of Expellees, a powerful force in Merkel’s party, wants their leader Steinbach, who is a conservative member of parliament, on the museum’s board. Merkel’s past and present coalition partners have vetoed Steinbach (pictured above with Merkel) because of Poland’s objections to the woman with controversial views in the past on the German-Poland border and Poland’s membership in the European Union.
So what does Merkel do? She sits it all out and puts off any decision. That was her strategy when the issue came up earlier and this is now the sequel to the earlier round of the unfinished business.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a leader in the opposition Social Democrats who was Merkel’s foreign minister for the last four years, understands well her reluctance to take a stance on controversial issues at home. In a German TV interview on Thursday he put the finger in the wound and said: “Mrs. Merkel has to make up her mind.”
The situation is turning into a farce. Both Merkel and the League say it is the other side that has to make a decision.
There have been a number of other occasions where Merkel’s voice went oddly silent. She calls on other countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions but ducks questions about introducing a speed limit on Germany’s motorways that could cut emissions by 5-10 percent overnight. She first agreed to introduce a minimum wage in Germany with her Social Democrat coalition partners but did a quick U-turn when her party refused to go along.
A year ago as the financial crisis was engulfing Europe and the world, Merkel faced withering criticism for her overly cautious response initially. Der Spiegel called her “Angela Mutlos” (Angela Faint-hearted) and acussed her of “dangerous dithering”. It wrote: “Merkel has always been quiet, reticent, cautious. Merkel has failed to lead her country through a time of uncertainty.” At the time she also first refused to consider cutting taxes to stimulate growth but reversed course under pressure from powerful barons in her party with a series of small steps and was suddenly in favour of tax cuts a few weeks later.
Last month, in coalition talks for a new centre-right government, Merkel kept going out the back door to avoid journalists each evening and remained silent when a controversy erupted over her government’s short-lived proposal to create a shadow budget to borrow 50 billion euros. This week Der Spiegel published a story on her powerful Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said that Merkel’s weakness is she likes to surround herself with yes men.
So is Merkel really the world’s most powerful woman?