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Opinion digest: Two takes on Angela Merkel’s political personality

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Italy, Aug. 22, 2016
German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a press conference in Italy, Aug. 22, 2016 Source: (SIPA/Scanpix)

Just in time for Merkel’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday this week, two takes on her character and political convictions have appeared in the Estonian press. In Päevaleht, director Katrin Laur writes about a politically bland, but nevertheless successful woman, and in Ekspress, journalist Külli-Riin Tigasson lists six ethics rules that Merkel has followed.

Laur’s opinion piece in yesterday's Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian) is influenced by her perspective of a socialist versus a Western society. The central claim of her piece is that Merkel doesn’t understand the “West Germans”, and that her political actions have been defined by a populist and opportunistic approach.

Laur: Merkel is a “stranger to her own”

Laur writes in her opinion piece that Merkel is a “stranger to her own”, and that her behavior at times seems irrational, for example her decision to keep Germany’s borders open during the migration crisis.

She recapitulates the chancellor’s political and private biography, from the pastor’s daughter that took up physics in the German Democratic Republic to the woman that pretty much started her political career in government.

Laur also points out that before legendary chancellor Helmut Kohl made her Minister for Women and Youth in his cabinet in 1990, Merkel hadn’t shown any political aspirations.

Perhaps it should be taken into account that for a scientist (Merkel is a physicist) and believer in democratic principles, there wasn’t much to be had in East-German politics before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In point of fact, Merkel showed interest in democratic politics as soon as this became an option at all.

To this day, Merkel doesn’t know the West Germans save for those she meets in her everyday political life, Laur goes on to say. Merkel doesn’t share a single everyday life experience with the West Germans, never having gone to school there, and never having had the experience of today’s education system as a grandmother, she adds.

Merkel wouldn’t know anything about losing a job, or changing jobs, and the problems that come with it. “Living in a democratic society, I wouldn’t usually assume that the people who make the decisions that define our lives don’t know anything about it themselves,” Laur states.

One can’t help but wonder how Laur sees everyday life in modern Estonia then, where with the exception of the governments of Juhan Parts and Taavi Rõivas, every single defining decision has been made by people who came out of the political mill of the USSR, and where a great number of originally Soviet-shaped minds remain in the Riigikogu and the government.

Since 1990, Laur then goes on, Merkel has followed the wishes and demands of the German people more than exhibited a political world view of her own. She supports this claim with examples of political and economic change initiated by Merkel that, in her opinion, would have been more fitting for the country’s Social Democrats or Greens than the supposedly conservative CDU.

Moreover, not closing Germany’s borders during the migration crisis last year was what Merkel assumed, from her encounters with the West Germans surrounding her and her colleagues in politics, the German people wanted.

Tigasson: Keeping Germany’s borders open was a Christian decision

Quite a contrast to Laur’s statements, “Angela Merkel’s six rules” (link in Estonian) by Külli-Riin Tigasson, which appeared in Wednesday's Eesti Ekspress, looks beyond the immediately obvious and convenient to a more deeply ethical conviction of Merkel’s.

Tigasson points out in her article that Merkel isn’t vain; that she cares for rules more than loyalties; that she is at least in principle honest; that she respects others; that she refuses to give in to panic; and that though her political convictions may be flexible, her ethics are as solid as they could be.

All of this reads a lot like the principles one would expect to be handed down to a pastor’s daughter. And Merkel is a pastor’s daughter, whether or not she was born in the German Democratic Republic.

When Tigasson talks about Merkel’s decision to not close the borders and allow the masses of refugees in, she calls it a Christian act above anything else. And with that, she hits the nail on the head.

Merkel’s party, the CDU, is the Christian Democratic Union, its southern and slightly obstinate partner, the CSU, the Christian Social Union. When West Germany pioneered the economic and social policies of the Third Way, it was the conservative CDU under then chancellor Ludwig Erhard that popularized the concept, not the Social Democrats. They merely took it over.

When Merkel makes political decisions today that are in favor of those who have the least, in favor of keeping up the purchasing power of the less affluent levels of society, and if these decisions make the Social Democrats look bad, this has more to do with the shortcomings of the latter than a drastic change of course of the former.

Merkel follows a tradition that has been part of the German political center-right since the Second World War, and in some respects even predates it. Yes, her becoming a minister in Kohl’s government had something to do with opportunism, but rather on the part of Kohl, who needed a government both for West and East Germany, and who didn’t have a very large candidate pool from which to pick out his cabinet.

Editor: Editor: Aili Sarapik

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