Angela Dorothea Merkel (English /ˈæŋɡələ ˈmɛərkəl/[a]; née Kasner; born 17 July 1954) is a German politician who is currently Chancellor of Germany. She is also the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Merkel has been described at various times as the de facto leader of the European Union, the most powerful woman in the world, and one of the world’s most powerful people.
A former research scientist with a doctorate in physical chemistry, Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, and briefly served as a deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected East German Government headed by Lothar de Maizière in 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, Merkel was elected to the Bundestag for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has been reelected ever since. Merkel was appointed as the Minister for Women and Youth in the federal government under Chancellor Helmut Kohl in 1991, and became the Minister for the Environment in 1994. After her party lost the federal election in 1998, Merkel was elected Secretary-General of the CDU before becoming the party’s first woman leader two years later in the aftermath of a donations scandal that toppled Wolfgang Schäuble.
Following the 2005 federal election, Merkel was appointed Germany’s first woman Chancellor at the head of a grand coalition consisting of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the 2009 federal election, the CDU obtained the largest share of the vote and Merkel was able to form a coalition government with the support of the Free Democratic Party (FDP). At the 2013 federal election, Merkel’s CDU won a landslide victory with 41.5% of the vote and formed a second grand coalition with the SPD, after the FDP lost all of its representation in the Bundestag.
In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and chaired the G8, the second woman to do so. Merkel played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of Merkel’s consistent priorities has been to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. Merkel played a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and she has been referred to as “the decider.” In domestic policy, health care reform, problems concerning future energy development and more recently her government’s approach to the ongoing migrant crisis have been major issues during her Chancellorship. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union and she is currently the senior G7 leader. On 20 November 2016, Merkel announced she would seek re-election to a fourth term.
Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954, in Hamburg, West Germany, the daughter of Horst Kasner (1926–2011; né Kaźmierczak), a Lutheran pastor and a native of Berlin, and his wife Herlind (née Jentzsch), born in 1928 in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), a teacher of English and Latin. She has two younger siblings, her brother Marcus Kasner, a physicist, and her sister Irene Kasner, an occupational therapist. In her childhood and youth, Merkel was known among her peers by the nickname “Kasi”, derived from her last name Kasner.
Merkel is of Polish and German descent. Her paternal grandfather Ludwik Kaźmierczak was a German policeman of Polish ethnicity, who had taken part in Poland’s struggle for independence. He married Merkel’s grandmother Margarethe, a German girl from Berlin, and relocated to her hometown where he worked in the police. In 1930 they Germanized the Polish name Kaźmierczak to Kasner. Merkel’s maternal grandparents were the Danzig politician Willi Jentzsch and Gertrud Alma née Drange, a daughter of the city clerk of Elbing (now Elbląg, Poland) Emil Drange. Merkel has mentioned her Polish heritage on several occasions, but her Polish roots became better known as a result of a 2013 biography.
Religion played a key role in the Kasner family’s migration from West Germany to East Germany. Merkel’s paternal grandfather was originally Catholic but the entire family converted to Lutheranism during the childhood of her father, who later studied Lutheran theology in Heidelberg and afterwards in Hamburg. In 1954, when Angela was just three months old, her father received a pastorate at the church in Quitzow (a quarter of Perleberg in Brandenburg), which was then in East Germany. The family moved to Templin and Merkel grew up in the countryside 90 km (56 mi) north of East Berlin.
Like most young people in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Merkel was a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official youth movement sponsored by the ruling Socialist Unity Party. Membership was nominally voluntary, but those who did not join found it difficult to gain admission to higher education. She did not participate in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, however, which was common in East Germany. Instead, she was confirmed. Later, at the Academy of Sciences, she became a member of its FDJ secretariat. Merkel has stated that she was secretary for culture, which involved activities like obtaining theatre tickets and organising talks by visiting Soviet authors.
At school, she learned to speak Russian fluently, and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics. Merkel was educated at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritzbastei, a project students initiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University of Leipzig; however, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed.
Near the end of her studies at university of Leipzig, Merkel sought an assistant professorship at an engineering school. As a condition for getting the job, Merkel was told she would need to agree to report on her colleagues to the Stasi, GDR’s secret police. Merkel declined, using the excuse that she could not keep secrets well enough to be an effective spy. Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry, she worked as a researcher and published several papers.
Early political career
The fall of the Berlin Wall served as the catalyst for Merkel’s political career. Although she did not participate in the crowd celebrations the night the wall came down, one month later Merkel became involved in the growing democracy movement, joining the new party Democratic Awakening. Following the first (and only) multi-party election of the East German state, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maizière.Merkel had impressed de Maiziere with her adept dealing with journalists questioning the role of a party leader, Wolfgang Schnur, as a secret informant for police. In April 1990, the Democratic Awakening merged with the East German CDU, which in turn merged with its western counterpart after reunification.
Merkel stood for election at the 1990 federal election, the first since reunification, and was elected to the Bundestag for the constituency of Stralsund – Nordvorpommern – Rügen, which is in the district of Vorpommern-Rügen. She has won re-election for this constituency at the six federal elections since. After her first election, she was almost immediately appointed to the Cabinet, serving as Minister for Women and Youth under Chancellor Helmut Kohl. In 1994, she was promoted to becoming Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform from which to build her political career. As one of Kohl’s protégées and his youngest Cabinet Minister, she was frequently referred to by Kohl as “mein Mädchen” (“my girl”).
Leader of the opposition
After the Kohl Government was defeated at the 1998 election, Merkel was appointed Secretary-General of the CDU, a key position as the party was no longer part of the federal government. Merkel oversaw a string of CDU election victories in six out of seven state elections in 1999, breaking the long-standing SPD-Green hold on the Bundesrat. Following a party funding scandal that compromised many leading figures of the CDU—including Kohl himself and his successor as CDU Leader, Wolfgang Schäuble, Merkel criticised her former mentor publicly and advocated a fresh start for the party without him. She was subsequently elected to replace Schäuble, becoming the first female leader of a German party on 10 April 2000. Her election surprised many observers, as her personality offered a contrast to the party she had been elected to lead; Merkel is a centrist Protestant originating from predominantly Protestant northern Germany, while the CDU is a male-dominated, socially conservative party with strongholds in western and southern Germany, and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, has deep Catholic roots.
Following Merkel’s election as CDU Leader, she enjoyed considerable popularity among the German population and polls indicated that many Germans wanted to see her become Chancellor Gerhard Schröder‘s main challenger in the 2002 election. However, she was subsequently outmaneuvered politically by CSU Leader Edmund Stoiber, to whom she eventually ceded the privilege of challenging Schröder. He went on to squander a large lead in opinion polls to lose the election by a razor-thin margin. After Stoiber’s defeat in 2002, in addition to her role as CDU Leader, Merkel became Leader of the Opposition in the Bundestag; Friedrich Merz, who had held the post prior to the 2002 election, was eased out to make way for Merkel.
Merkel supported a substantial reform agenda for Germany’s economic and social system, and was considered more pro-market than her own party (the CDU). She advocated German labour law changes, specifically removing barriers to laying off employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week. She argued that existing laws made the country less competitive, because companies could not easily control labour costs when business is slow.
Merkel advocated a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. In the spring of 2003, defying strong public opposition, Merkel came out in favour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing it as “unavoidable” and accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of anti-Americanism. She criticised the government’s support for the accession of Turkey to the European Union and favoured a “privileged partnership” instead. In doing so, she reflected public opinion that grew more hostile toward Turkish membership of the European Union.
2005 national election
On 30 May 2005, Merkel won the CDU/CSU nomination as challenger to Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD in the 2005 national elections. Her party began the campaign with a 21-point lead over the SPD in national opinion polls, although her personal popularity lagged behind that of the incumbent. However, the CDU/CSU campaign suffered when Merkel, having made economic competence central to the CDU’s platform, confused gross and net income twice during a televised debate. She regained some momentum after she announced that she would appoint Paul Kirchhof, a former judge at the German Constitutional Court and leading fiscal policy expert, as Minister of Finance.
Merkel and the CDU lost ground after Kirchhof proposed the introduction of a flat tax in Germany, again undermining the party’s broad appeal on economic affairs and convincing many voters that the CDU’s platform of deregulationwas designed to benefit only the rich. This was compounded by Merkel’s proposal to increase VAT to reduce Germany’s deficit and fill the gap in revenue from a flat tax. The SPD were able to increase their support simply by pledging not to introduce flat taxes or increase VAT. Although Merkel’s standing recovered after she distanced herself from Kirchhof’s proposals, she remained considerably less popular than Schröder, and the CDU’s lead was down to 9% on the eve of the election.
On the eve of the election, Merkel was still favored to win a decisive victory based on opinion polls. On 18 September 2005, Merkel’s CDU/CSU and Schröder’s SPD went head-to-head in the national elections, with the CDU/CSU winning 35.2% (CDU 27.8%/CSU 7.5%) of the second votes to the SPD’s 34.2%. The result was so close, both Schröder and Merkel claimed victory. Neither the SPD-Green coalition nor the CDU/CSU and its preferred coalition partners, the Free Democratic Party, held enough seats to form a majority in the Bundestag. A grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD faced the challenge that both parties demanded the chancellorship. However, after three weeks of negotiations, the two parties reached a deal whereby Merkel would become Chancellor and the SPD would hold 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet.
Chancellor of Germany
On 22 November 2005, Merkel assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany following a stalemate election that resulted in a grand coalition with the SPD. The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November 2005. Merkel was elected Chancellor by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November 2005, but 51 members of the governing coalition voted against her.
Reports at the time indicated that the grand coalition would pursue a mix of policies, some of which differed from Merkel’s political platform as leader of the opposition and candidate for Chancellor. The coalition’s intent was to cut public spending whilst increasing VAT (from 16 to 19%), social insurance contributions and the top rate of income tax.
When announcing the coalition agreement, Merkel stated that the main aim of her government would be to reduce unemployment, and that it was this issue on which her government would be judged.
Her party was re-elected in 2009 with an increased number of seats, and could form a governing coalition with the FDP. In the election of September 2013 the CDU/CSU parties emerged as winners, but formed another grand coalition with the SPD due to the FDP’s failure to obtain the minimum of 5% of votes required to enter parliament.
In October 2010, Merkel told a meeting of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party at Potsdam that attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany had “utterly failed”, stating that: “The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it” does not work and “we feel attached to the Christian concept of mankind, that is what defines us. Anyone who doesn’t accept that is in the wrong place here.” She continued to say that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values. This has added to a growing debate within Germany on the levels of immigration, its effect on Germany and the degree to which Muslim immigrants have integrated into German society.
Merkel’s foreign policy has focused on strengthening European cooperation and international trade agreements. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union throughout her tenure as Chancellor.
One of Merkel’s priorities was strengthening transatlantic economic relations. She signed the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council on 30 April 2007 at the White House. Merkel enjoyed good relations with US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Obama described her in 2016 as his “closest international partner” throughout his tenure as President.
On 25 September 2007, Merkel met the 14th Dalai Lama for “private and informal talks” in the Chancellery in Berlin amid protest from China. China afterwards cancelled separate talks with German officials, including talks with Justice Minister Brigitte Zypries.
In recognition of the importance of China to the German economy, by 2014 Merkel had led seven trade delegations to China since assuming office in 2005. The same year, in March, China’s President Xi Jinping visited Germany.
In 2015, with the absence of Stephen Harper, Merkel became the only leader to have attended every G20 meeting since the very first in 2008, having been present at a record eleven summits as of 2016. She is expected to host the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit.
Following major falls in worldwide stock markets in September 2008, the German government stepped in to assist the mortgage company Hypo Real Estate with a bailout, which was agreed on 6 October, with German banks to contribute €30 billion and the Bundesbank €20 billion to a credit line.
On 4 October 2008, a Saturday, following the Irish Government’s decision to guarantee all deposits in private savings accounts, a move she strongly criticised,Merkel said there were no plans for the German Government to do the same. The following day, Merkel stated that the government would guarantee private savings account deposits, after all. However, two days later, on 6 October 2008, it emerged that the pledge was simply a political move that would not be backed by legislation. Other European governments eventually either raised the limits or promised to guarantee savings in full.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2013, she started to say that Europe nowadays has only 7% of the global population and produces only 25% of the global GDP, but that it spends almost 50% of the global social expenditure. The solution to the economic ills of the continent only can consist in raising its competitiveness.Since then, this comparison has become a central element in major speeches.The international financial press has widely commented on her thesis, with The Economist saying that:
If Mrs Merkel’s vision is pragmatic, so too is her plan for implementing it. It can be boiled down to three statistics, a few charts and some facts on an A4 sheet of paper. The three figures are 7%, 25% and 50%. Mrs Merkel never tires of saying that Europe has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its GDP and 50% of its social spending. If the region is to prosper in competition with emerging countries, it cannot continue to be so generous.
The Financial Times commented:
Although Ms Merkel stopped short of suggesting that a ceiling on social spending might be one yardstick for measuring competitiveness, she hinted as much in the light of soaring social spending in the face of an ageing population.[b]
The first Cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in at 16:00 CET on 22 November 2005. On 31 October 2005, after the defeat of his favoured candidate for the position of Secretary General of the SPD, Franz Müntefering indicated that he would resign as party chairman, which he did in November. Ostensibly responding to this, Edmund Stoiber (CSU), who was originally nominated as Minister for Economics and Technology, announced his withdrawal on 1 November 2005. While this was initially seen as a blow to Merkel’s attempt at forming a viable coalition, the manner in which Stoiber withdrew earned him much ridicule and severely undermined his position as a Merkel rival. Separate conferences of the CDU, CSU, and SPD approved the proposed Cabinet on 14 November 2005. The second Cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in on 28 October 2009.
In 2013, Merkel won one of the most decisive victories in German history, achieving the best result for the CDU/CSU since reunification and coming within five seats of the first absolute majority in the Bundestag since 1957. However, with their preferred coalition partner, the FDP, failing to enter parliament for the first time since 1949, the CDU/CSU turned to the SPD to form the third grand coalition in postwar German history and the second under Merkel’s leadership. The third Cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in on 17 December 2013.
At the beginning of August 2015, Der Spiegel reported that Merkel had “evidently decided to run again in 2017”.
Midway through her second term, Merkel’s approval plummeted in Germany, resulting in heavy losses in state elections for her party. An August 2011 poll found her coalition had only 36% support compared to a rival potential coalition’s 51%.However, she scored well on her handling of the recent euro crisis (69% rated her performance as good rather than poor), and her approval rating reached an all-time high of 77% in February 2012 and again in July 2014. Merkel’s approval rating dropped to 54% in October 2015, during the European migrant crisis, the lowest since 2011. According to a poll conducted after terror attacks in Germany Merkel’s approval rating dropped to 47% (August 2016). Half of Germans did not want her to serve a fourth term in office compared to 42% in favor. However, according to a poll taken in October 2016, her approval rating had been found to have risen again, 54% of Germans were found to be satifsfied with work of Merkel as Chancellor. According to another poll taken in November 2016, 59% were to found to be in favour of a renewed Chancellor candidature of Merkel in 2017. According to a poll carried out just days after the 2016 Berlin Attack, in which it was asked which political leader(s) Germans trust to solve their country’s problems; 56% named Merkel, 39% Seehofer (CSU), 35% Gabriel (SPD), 32% Schulz (SPD), 25% Özdemir (Greens), 20% Wagenknecht (Left party), 15% Linder (FDP), and just 10% for Petry (AfD).
Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union throughout her tenure as Chancellor. Merkel has twice been named the world’s second most powerful person following Vladimir Putin by Forbes magazine, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union. In December 2015, Merkel was named as Time magazine’s Person of the Year, with the magazine’s cover declaring her to be the “Chancellor of the Free World“. In May 2016, Merkel was named the most powerful woman in the world for a record tenth time by Forbes. Following the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency in November 2016, Merkel was described by The New York Times as “the Liberal West’s Last Defender” and by Timothy Garton Ash and other commentators as “the leader of the free world.”She is currently the senior G7 leader.
In 1977 at the age of 23, Angela Kasner married physics student Ulrich Merkel and took his surname. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight. They first met in 1981, became a couple later and married privately on 30 December 1998. She has no children, but Sauer has two adult sons from a previous marriage. She is a fervent football fan and has been known to listen to games while in the Bundestag and to attend games of the national team in her official capacity.
Merkel has a fear of dogs after being attacked by one in 1995. Vladimir Putin brought in his pet Labrador during a press conference in 2007. Putin claims he did not mean to scare her, though Merkel later observed, “I understand why he has to do this – to prove he’s a man. … He’s afraid of his own weakness.”
Angela Merkel is a Lutheran member of the Evangelical Church in Berlin, Brandenburg and Silesian Upper Lusatia (German: Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg-schlesische Oberlausitz – EKBO), a United Protestant (i.e. both Reformed and Lutheran) church body under the umbrella of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). The EKBO is a church of the Prussian Union. Before the 2004 merger of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg and the Evangelical Church in Silesian Upper Lusatia (both also being a part of the EKD), she belonged to the former.
In 2012, Merkel said, regarding her faith: “I am a member of the evangelical church. I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life. We as Christians should above all not be afraid of standing up for our beliefs.” She also publicly declared that Germany suffers not from “too much Islam”