Before Angela Merkel was named Person of the Year by Time magazine in 2015, Merkel had long been recognized as a leader among leaders, one whose opinion was not just sought, but absolutely couldn’t be ignored. Could she be the kind of leader we ought to emulate? It wasn’t just her manner of soothing her own electorate that Germany could, in fact, take hundreds of thousands of migrants, changing the face of their community and revitalizing it at the same time. It was the fact that she’d led the European Community through a difficult debt crisis and managed to get a contentious Europe to hew to her insistence upon debt ceilings as a percentage of GNP.
"We have to be a bit strict with each other at the moment so that in the end we are all successful together."Merkel’s record as Chancellor in Germany has few book-length analyses, but this one, written by two Berlin-based journalists for Bloomberg News, is extremely useful for understanding the basis of her style and success as a leader, while pointing out areas other European leaders do not agree with Merkel’s direction and methods. If Merkel lived in the U.S., we’d already have several books out on her rise to the top leadership post. This book, published in 2013 after the EU was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2012, is specific to how Merkel steered the EU through the debt crisis amid much political maneuvering.
Several longish pieces on Merkel have appeared in The New Yorker, i.e., Cassidy, Sept 2013; Packer, Dec 2014), and may show American intellectuals the the long line of folks who have underestimated Angela Merkel. George Packer, taking the line proposed by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, suggests that Merkel’s leadership through the euro crisis has been “less than inspiring” and the euro zone was saved only by the emergency intervention of the European Central Bank led by Italian economist Mario Draghi, who had been extensively lobbied by the Americans. The authors of this book, however, point out that Merkel approached the crisis with a different set of attitudes toward what caused the crisis and what was necessary to fix it.
Czuczka and Crawford give a tantalizing account of Merkel turning to the work of Polish-born mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, then teaching at Yale, to understand the workings of the financial markets. Mandelbrot wrote a piece in Scientific American (1999) entitled “A Multifractal Walk down Wall Street,” later expanded into The (Mis) Behavior of Markets: A Fractal View of Risk, Ruin, and Reward (2004), co-authored with Richard L. Hudson, a former managing editor of Wall Street Journal’s European edition. “Chapters have subtitles including “How the operations of mere chance can be used to study a financial market” and “Orthodox financial theory is riddled with false assumptions and wrong results.”” One can imagine how this bolstered Merkel’s insistence upon commonsense regulation of banking and financial instruments.
Merkel’s personal style of 80% listening and 20% speaking, as well as her slow (some call it “delaying”), step-by-step trial-and-error “scientific” approach to decision-making has meant she has been able to change her mind when necessary, and adopt a policy she had not previously supported, all without being personally attacked as flip-flopping. She has been able to carry her electorate along with “root” changes in government administration, tax policy, and economic and societal direction. In addition, her reliance on a few close-mouthed advisors, closed-door negotiations, and restrained personal style have not given opponents much of a target. Vituperative postings on YouTube that give voice to those who oppose her migrant policies appear to play to a minority as she enjoys record high approval ratings in Germany and in Europe generally, particularly among the eastern Bloc countries.
"The supreme illustration of Merkel’s ability to pull off a reversal without incurring political damage was her overnight decision to ditch a planned extension of the lifespan of German’s nuclear power stations…Merkel the scientist said she had been convinced by the weight of evidence provided by the worse nuclear disaster since Chernobyl."
Crawford and Czuczka point out innumerable instances when Merkel managed to emerge from a political scuffle victorious, from her defeat of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, to allowing David Cameron to wander off on his own while she consolidated her leadership of the EU, shifting the center of gravity from Franco-German to Germany after the addition to the EU of several eastern European countries.
The Eastern Europeans “are acutely aware that systems can collapse” and have experienced collapse in their lifetimes, which may be why they appreciate Merkel’s “commonsense” approach to rebuilding “from the root” systems that are failing. Merkel seems to be creating an entirely new coalition of formerly weak European states that may emerge as a bloc of enormous vitality in comparison to the formerly wealthy colonists of western Europe who still seem intent upon protecting their wealth rather than creating new wealth. (America take note!) Merkel is focused on staying relevant and prosperous in a future that includes the rise of China and India and other emerging economies which are experiencing growth rates that may sideline the centrality of Europe in decision making.
“I have a very clear vision of what Europe should undertake, and must undertake, so the people in Europe can continue to live in prosperity.”
Merkel has a small portrait of Catherine the Great on her office desk in the chancellery. Catherine “was courageous and accomplished many things under difficult circumstances,” Merkel said when asked. Catherine also ruled Russia alone for 34 years. Merkel has told close associates that she will not run again for chancellor and may even leave before her term is finished in 2017. “Mutti” Merkel has changed the face of politics in Europe during her term and enjoys unprecedented popularity despite the static of vociferous opponents. It is difficult to imagine any other person we know governing with the quiet authority Merkel radiates.
This book is a very useful, insightful, and readable introduction to Merkel’s thinking, style, and political deal-making in her early terms as German chancellor, and gives us some idea of what was happening in Europe during that time. It includes biographical snippets and telling photographs of key moments in Merkel’s accession to and consolidation of power. For Americans, it may be an indispensable guide to understanding how Merkel is perceived by member EU countries. American–centric reporting misses a great deal of her appeal. Two journalists immersed in Berlin politics, and whose home countries (U.K. and U.S.) do not support Merkel’s policies, come away admiring of what she has been able to accomplish. Is Merkel the great politician of our time?
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