Germany’s political football

June 19, 2008

Merkel talks to Loew

Germany’s general election may still be a year away, but the challengers are already battling it out for the big political prize on unlikely territory — at Euro 2008.

Both conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democratic rival, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, are going to great lengths to associate themselves with the German team.

Steinmeier surprised journalists during a trip to China last week when he converted an ordinary fuel stop in Helsinki into a soccer-watching party.

Eager to catch Germany’s match against Croatia, Steinmeier had his China-bound plane roll to the door of a VIP lounge at Helsinki Airport immediately upon landing just before half-time, where a giant TV screen was set up for the ambitious foreign minister, his accompanying aides and journalists.

Cringing when Croatia went ahead 2-0, Steinmeier jumped up from his front row seat and headed for the door, grumbling: ‘The fuel tank must be full by now.’ But it turned out he was only joking. He sat back down in time to see Germany pull one back before ultimately losing 2-1.

Just days later, Merkel, Steinmeier (wearing a tacky tie with the red, black and gold German colours) and four other equally ambitious ministers from Merkel’s cabinet flew to Vienna to watch Germany’s next match against Austria. 

Merkel clearly enjoyed the game — as much as being in the spotlight. German TV kept cutting away to Merkel, chatting first with suspended midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger and then with coach Joachim Loew, banished to the stands by the referee.

“Merkel knows her stuff,” Schweinsteiger was quoted as as saying by Bild, a paper that once hailed Merkel’s ability to explain the off-side rule. “She pointed out that Philipp Lahm kept getting free on the left.”

Merkel’s predecessors Gerhard Schroeder, a gritty striker who played semi-pro football as a young law student, and Helmut Kohl were never shy about trying to attach themselves to the national team that has won three World Cups and three European Championships — knowing how priceless images of them posing with successful teams are.

With the 2009 election looming it seems Merkel and Steinmeier are pulling out all the stops. But you have to wonder how close they’ll want to be if Germany get knocked out in the quarter-finals by Portugal?

PHOTO: Germany’s coach Joachim Loew (C) speaks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during the Group B Euro 2008 match against Austria in Vienna, June 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

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