Angela Merkel: The Chancellor and Her World by Stefan Kornelius

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Angela Merkel: The Chancellor and Her World by Stefan Kornelius

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Category: Biography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: George Care
Reviewed by George Care
Summary: This authorized biography sheds light on the person behind the politician from her youthful days of hitch-hiking in Tbilisi to being the guest of honour at a White House state dinner and examines how a girl from East Germany rose to the highest ranks of European power.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 279 Date: June 2014
Publisher: Alma Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1846883187

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You have to admire the lady, this rather awkward and shy daughter of a staunch Lutheran pastor who himself had been born as a Polish Catholic. His daughter studied with such intelligence and application that soon brought her academic success particularly in Russian and finally in Quantum Chemistry. At the age of 26, she obtained her doctorate and - in passing, it rather seems - her first husband, the physicist Ulrike Merkel. Her rise to power was rapid and took place through the period in which the DDR collapsed as Russian policy under Gorbachev changed. Along with a wry and dry sense of humour Angela Merkel’s personality is the embodiment of the characteristic known in German as fleissig - hardworking, sedulous, diligent and assiduous.

Notably, the international journalist, Stefan Kornelius from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, describes how by 1998 her party, the CDU suffered defeat, she had reached the point where she was relishing the nitty-gritty of political strife and delivering sharp exchanges with her political opponent from the SPD, the extrovert German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. These sharpened acutely when, Merkel became her party’s General Secretary. She now began to invest her formidable skills into the arena of Foreign Policy and especially in European politics.

By 2004, the EU Commission was reformed after the elections, which yielded a majority for the conservative faction, and the question of who would be President, crucial. The European Socialists including Schröder were effectively sidelined and Merkel disliked the strong advocacy by Chirac of the Belgian, Verhofstadt. She manoeuvered with the British conservative, Michael Howard to put forward Chris Patten, to whom the then British PM, Tony Blair had to give support. In the end a compromise emerged which delivered a severe blow to Schröder and gave Merkel most of what she wanted. Compromise for Merkel is a strength she possesses and that Margaret Thatcher so obviously lacked. In the current selection of Jean-Claude Juncker presently in 2014, Merkel has had to compromise under attack from the German press. However, she has left the situation having once again achieved the best attainable solution from her viewpoint, seeking to reassure the isolated David Cameron.

It must be remembered, however, that this is an authorised biography which is written by a political ally from East Berlin, when both were involved in the Democratic Awakening movement in the DDR. Despite this, for a book which might have been just dry European politics, it contains both useful insights and a lively light touch. It clearly shows the degree of repression in the DDR where even a school play was harshly censored by Stasi agents, travel abroad for a woman was possible only when she reached sixty and remaining stumm in a cabin fever society was necessary for survival. As Kornelius points out, retaining a deeper sense of strategy and also of irony would serve Merkel well as she rose to the highest echelon of power.

In this fluent translation, topics examined include the compromises of handling the coalitions that are thrown up by Germany’s federal system and the relation between the Chancellor’s role and Foreign policy objectives. These also cover the direction of American strategy, led by a leader whom Merkel finds inscrutable. Both she and her partner, the eminent quantum chemist, Joachim Sauer, on a personal level love the Pacific coast; such affection contrasts with what she sees as Osama’s dysfunctional domestic policy. Another area of concern lies in her dealings with Israel. She has espoused a policy of never again towards the Nazi past attempting to tackle concerns over racism and in Israel attacking speaking against anti-Semitism. Merkel probably has as good a historical understanding of the complexity of issues in this area as any world leader. Trust between extremists is clearly very difficult to establish. Germany tacitly supported the Palestinian access to the United Nations with observer, non-member status. Other chapters relate the developing relations with China, Russia and Chancellor Merkel’s continuing concern with ensuring peace within Europe. Since Kornelius’s book was written in 2013 the emergencies in Ukraine have strained these concerns to the utmost limit.

Kornelius’s account touches upon hagiography. Certainly it has patches of humour as in the account of Merkel’s famous trouser suited pose about which she has publicly joked with Hilary Clinton. It is also interesting to hear of the appeal that Wagner has for Merkel and the importance signified in Der Ring des Nibelungen of getting the first step just right. Unquestionably, the concept of freedom plays a dominant role in her thinking and associated with it, those of responsibility and tolerance. No wonder then that she must be concerned as Germany's chief prosecutor currently investigates suspected U.S. monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, an intrusion which has dominated headlines in Berlin for months and stretched trans-Atlantic ties.

Thanks must go to Alma Books for sending the review copy.

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