MUNICH — (MunichNOW Politics) — Angela Merkel, often called the most powerful woman in the world, is seeking in this election a fourth term as Chancellor of Germany.
Her political career has been characterized by a steady rise to power from her initial debut in politics shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and her equally steady leadership style has earned her the trust of voters in Germany.
Born in Hamburg in 1954, she moved with her father, a Protestant theologian, and mother, an English and Latin teacher, to the small East German town of Templin, 80 km north of Berlin. As a student, like most people her age, she was member of the Free German Youth, a socialist organization.
At the University of Leipzig, she studied physics from 1973 to 1977, marrying Ulrich Merkel in 1977 but divorcing in 1982. She remained in academia until 1989 when she joined the Democratic Awakening and soon after became the deputy-spokesperson in the interim East German government.
After the reunification, she went on to hold cabinet positions in Helmut Kohl’s government, including Minister for Environment and Nuclear Safety. Kohl took her under his wing during those early years of her political career, when she earned the nickname “Kohl’s girl”.
Her relationship with Mr. Kohl suffered, however, after she wrote an article critical of his handling of the CDU-party finance scandal, involving illegal contributions to the party. She emerged from this row with Kohl to take a leading position in the party and was nominated as CDU party chair in 2000. Five years later she claimed a narrow victory over her SDP counterpart, Gerhard Schröder, to become Chancellor of Germany, a post she has held ever since.
Understandably for an individual who has been in the same position for twelve years, Mrs. Merkel has seen her support as Chancellor rise and fall over the years. While she has generally enjoyed a steady level of support, her approval ratings had dropped in August 2011 prior to the Euro crisis.
However, her handling of the crisis boosted the voters’ faith in her ability to keep Germany on a steady financial course. The biggest challenge since her reelection in 2013 came in the form of the 2015 migrant crisis. The figure one million – the number of migrants who entered Germany throughout the crisis – has often been used as a stick with which to beat Mrs. Merkel. She has admitted that, in hindsight, she would have handled the situation differently.
Critics of Mrs. Merkel claim her conservative, wait-and-see approach is overly pragmatic, indecisive and designed to gain support in the polls. Some cite her decision, in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, to halt nuclear energy production as a prime example of her playing politics rather than leading the country.
Others, however, see her as a careful, analytical scientist weighing the outcomes of her decisions step-by-step. She has also faced criticism recently for voting against same-sex marriage, although the bill did pass.
While her style of politics may divide opinion, the influence she has wielded in Germany and internationally cannot be understated. Her political prowess has allowed her to hold her position at the center of European politics and at the same time to maintain popularity at home.
The upcoming election will be yet another hurdle in a career that seems far from over.
Matthew Glennie also contributed to this article.