Suzanne Fields

Now that her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) are negotiating with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) as a coalition partner, the big questions are whether she will be a "milder Merkel" or a more "austere Angela," whether she'll compromise more or become a tougher chancellor. A Greek newspaper cartoonist, fearing the latter, portrays her with a crown on a throne presiding over Europe, and it wasn't so long ago that the New Statesmen, an influential magazine of the British left, portrayed her as the "Terminator: Europe's most dangerous leader."

At her first press conference here in Berlin after her election, she said, "the process of reforms isn't just a process of austerity, but of competitiveness and solid budgets, it's about the confidence of investors in our country." She insists that "Germany needs a stable government." If a decade ago Germany was the "sick man of Europe," now it's "an anchor of stability".

Such change, she believes, led her to win big in this election, 16 percentage points above SPD, her potential junior coalition partner. She still must woo that center-left party to join her, a party that remembers how miserably it fared in her first term when the SPD was relegated to a place deep in her considerable shadow. The party suffered. This time they're trying to play hard to get, figuring they can extract concessions on domestic policy by going for them early. They want the establishment of a minimum wage and cancellation of a subsidy for stay-at-home mothers to expand state day care. A cartoon in the newspaper Tagesspiegel depicts Frau Merkel as a cat, teasing the SPD mouse from its hole.

When Hillary Clinton, as secretary of State, visited Chancellor Merkel, a newspaper photograph showed the two women from the waist down, each in a different colored blazer and black trousers, asking the viewer to try to tell them apart. With their husbands, the difference would have been dramatic. Frau Merkel has been married twice, and kept the name of her first husband. Few Germans know anything about her present husband (or even his name), although he occasionally attends public events. She stands alone on center stage and the Germans like it that way. There's neither Bubba nor "co-chancellorship" here.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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