The second iron lady?

Is Angela Merkel Europe’s second iron lady? Here are some questions and answers that may help to clarify.

Dateline 02 September 2005

Who is Angela Merkel?

She is leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Her party is running well ahead of Gerhard Schroeder’s ruling Social Democrats (SPD) for the September 18 election.

What's her background?

Like Margaret Thatcher, she trained as a scientist before entering politics. Like Condoleeza Rice, she is the daughter of a Christian minister. She faced a prejudiced education system that marked down children from Christian families but, again like Rice, she overcame discrimination through sheer ability and determination. She wants to change her country, and with it, perhaps, the world.

Weren’t they supposed to be winning last time?

At the last election the SPD, came from behind to win by exploiting the flash floods in eastern Germany and a populist anti-Americanism. Schroeder remains personally more popular than his party – or than Merkel – but in Germany’s parliamentary system it is votes for parties that count.

Will the campaign get dirty?

When defending their heartland of North Rhine – Westphalia (Germany’s largest state) the SPD deflected criticism of the economy by publishing a “locust list” of businesspeople it blamed for unemployment. The “locusts” were largely American Jews. Despite this tactic, the CDU won the state for the first time in decades.

Will one party win outright?

No. The SPD is in coalition with the Greens. The CDU will probably form one with the FDP.

The FDP? Aren’t they liberals?

Not in American terms. They are more “right wing” on economics than the conservative Christian Democrats, but take the middle ground on foreign affairs.

Will Germany start to support America in Iraq?

Merkel did, but the FDP did not. The FDP will probably get the foreign ministry. A new government is unlikely to send troops but will not actively oppose American policy as Schroeder does.

Schroeder is anti-American, right?

He is stirring up anti-Americanism right now on Iran, and, of course, his party published the “locust list” of American Jews.

And Merkel?

Growing up in East Germany, the young Angela Merkel used secretly to listen to western radio broadcasts. Perhaps she heard President Reagan speak of the Evil Empire and demand “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall”. She was certainly in Berlin the night it finally fell. She is, naturally, very pro-American.

Will there be any other changes in policy?

Merkel’s platform calls for tax cuts, which are much needed in Germany right now. She seems to like the idea of a flat tax, though that is not in the platform. The FDP would probably like it, so it may end up the government’s program.

Aren’t flat taxes getting very popular in Europe?

So far only in ex-communist countries. If a major economy like Germany adopts one, it could start a trend across Europe. This would lead to a booming world economy, and America would need to compete by reforming its own tax code.

Is she another Iron Lady?

We will see. Margaret Thatcher’s initiative in privatizing government owned industries was exported around the world. If Merkel wants to have a similar impact, the policy to pursue is the flat tax.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 02 September 2005

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