Magazine article Newsweek International

'Was She Ever Really a Reformer?'

Magazine article Newsweek International

'Was She Ever Really a Reformer?'

Article excerpt

She is a politician without any domestic policy compass.

SHE was a Joan of Arc fighting the socialists in every political party. A German Margaret Thatcher. But Angela Merkel never took up the fight for a resurgence in sound economic and social policy. Instead, this would-be economic reformer slipped into a very different role as the pragmatic head of a grand coalition of Social and Christian Democrats. Now, rather than asking what is good policy, she asks what is doable. Rather than saying what she wants, she sells the smallest common denominator as the greatest possible success. Indeed Merkel has somehow arrived exactly where she was when she took over the chairmanship of the Christian Democrats seven years ago -- as a woman without any discernible domestic-policy compass.

How did this happen? Merkel was thrust into politics by Helmut Kohl shortly after the Berlin wall came down, and for years after lived with the accusation that "Kohl's girl" was hesitant and dithering. But in 2003, Merkel positioned herself so clearly in favor of a return to the free-market ideals upon which West Germany's original economic miracle was founded that it left many of her own party's establishment breathless. The new Merkel wanted her country to become a powerful player in the globalized world. A radically simplified tax code, a reformed welfare state and a competitive education and research system were the pillars of a bold concept that she called the "second founding" of the German economy.

But the spirit of the campaigner retreated after the voters refused to hand her party the election victory it expected. The Christian Democrats won a meager 35.2 percent of the vote, forcing it to forge a grand coalition with the center-left rather than the pro-market Free Democrats.

A chancellor whose party has only two seats more in the Bundestag than the "smaller" coalition partner cannot rule with an iron fist. …

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