Iron Mdchen: The IoS Profile: Angela Merkel ; That Tony Blair Chose to Meet Germany's Opposition Leader before Its Chancellor Was No Accident. the Woman They Call Angie Has a 22 per Cent Lead in the Polls and Is Expected to Take Power in September. but If Our PM Thinks This Is the Start of an Anglo-German Love Affair, He May Yet Have His Heart Broken

By Elkins, Ruth | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 19, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Iron Mdchen: The IoS Profile: Angela Merkel ; That Tony Blair Chose to Meet Germany's Opposition Leader before Its Chancellor Was No Accident. the Woman They Call Angie Has a 22 per Cent Lead in the Polls and Is Expected to Take Power in September. but If Our PM Thinks This Is the Start of an Anglo-German Love Affair, He May Yet Have His Heart Broken


Elkins, Ruth, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


The crowd outside Berlin's Hotel Adlon last Tuesday night didn't care about Tony Blair. They were more interested in catching a glimpse of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes on the brink of their engagement. They probably weren't even aware that in almost the same spot a day earlier the PM had flashed at lightning speed into the building next door. Tony knew it would be a tough job to persuade Germany to back the British position in the Brussels summit, and Friday night's stalemate gave rise to unprecedented expressions in language far from communautaire. But Blair, who knows a thing or two about backing winners, was doing some important groundwork for his forthcoming stint in the European presidency. He defied diplomatic convention " and affronted some high up in the German government " by choosing to meet the Leader of the Opposition before he met Chancellor Gerhard Schrder.

Angela Merkel, the woman all the polls say will become Germany's leader in the September elections, showed extraordinary sympathy for Blair's position. If Schrder is dead meat politically, as many believe, then his recent intransigence need not concern Blair. Tomorrow belongs to 'Angie'.

It was probably the best start to the week that Blair could have hoped for, and three days later, Merkel went public. 'It does not make it easy when one side says the agricultural subsidies are sacrosanct, we cannot touch them, and then flexibility is demanded from others,' she told the German parliament. 'The British must move, that is indisputable, but compromises cannot be expected from one side when the other side says that its benefits are sacrosanct.' Could this be the beginning of an Anglo-German love affair? Or is it, as the wagging tongues suggest of Cruise's fresh engagement, one huge PR stunt? A closer look at Merkel's track record suggests Blair should stay on his guard. 'Sie geht ber Leichen,' warn the more critical German political commentators. They mean simply that Merkel has risen to the top by walking on the corpses of the men who first helped her rise, and whom she swiftly stabs in the back once they are no longer of any use. Opinion polls say she is now a shoo-in: her CDU party leads by 22 per cent.

Angela Dorothea Kasner, the eldest of three children, spent 35 years in Communist East Germany. She was born in West Germany, in Hamburg, but her father, a Lutheran pastor, accepted a job in a seminary and headed east. Growing up in rural eastern Brandenburg, Merkel learned to slip easily between a public life obeying the laws of the German Democratic Republic and a home life where her father read the Bible and openly criticised the system. It was a childhood that taught her never to give too much away; a thorough political training in playing her cards close to her chest. To school friends, 'Kasi' was 'a bit weird' and 'deeply ambitious'. A star organiser in the Communist youth organisation, the FDJ, she worked hard and achieved constantly high grades.

Later, she studied physics at Leipzig University, before moving on to become a quantum chemistry researcher in East Berlin. Science, however, had been a purely pragmatic choice; merely a vehicle to keep her nose out of Communist politics. 'I would have loved to have become a teacher,' Merkel has admitted. 'But not under that political system. Physics was harmless and uncontroversial.' Her move into politics came late, in 1989. But Merkel positioned herself well, and it was a rapid rise to the top.

As popular resistance to Communism grew in the GDR, she joined the Democratic Renewal, a pro-democracy group, serving as spokeswoman for Lothar de Maizire, East Germany's only democratically elected leader. Within a year, Merkel had moved on, joining the CDU, the West German Christian Democrats, who were hungry for new talent.

As reunification took place, she asked to be introduced to Helmut Kohl. He spotted her ambition and took her under his wing.

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Iron Mdchen: The IoS Profile: Angela Merkel ; That Tony Blair Chose to Meet Germany's Opposition Leader before Its Chancellor Was No Accident. the Woman They Call Angie Has a 22 per Cent Lead in the Polls and Is Expected to Take Power in September. but If Our PM Thinks This Is the Start of an Anglo-German Love Affair, He May Yet Have His Heart Broken
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