18 Sep 2013

Angela Merkel: the anti-Iron Lady

Angela Merkel, who stands on the cusp of a third election victory in Sunday’s poll, is arguably the most powerful politician in the western world.

President Obama keeps getting his wings clipped. President Hollande never even grew them to take off with after his election victory, which now seems like ancient history, and David Cameron has had one wing tied by his coalition partners and the other by his restive backbenchers.

So that leaves Angela Merkel, basking in 60-plus approval ratings, presiding over the lowest unemployment rate in two decades while the rest of Europe is still licking its wounds. She is the undisputed, if uncrowned, leader of a fractious continent.

What’s at stake in this election? I asked a wise German friend. “Only the future of Europe and Europe’s role in the world,” she retorted archly. But judging from the campaign this election is about such globally transformative issues as motorway taxes for foreigners or the prospect of veggie day in German canteens.


These may be the luxuries of a peaceful and prosperous society but they also smack of  a German sense of self-denial about its true clout in Europe. Although Berlin has effectively been dictating the terms of economic recovery to the likes of Italy, Spain and Greece, it doesn’t want the conversation to become too political. It doesn’t want to be drawn on its political vision for Europe because that would involve a frank debate about leadership, and leadership – or Fuehrung – is still a term that makes Germans wince.

It is very strange to have moved from the US, a nation whose obsession with its exceptional destiny and the global leadership hint at fears that it is losing both, to a country that is living in a bubble of denial about its true power. Although Angela Merkel smiles benignly from posters promising strength and safety, she offers above all reassurance and continuity. A supreme party tactician who thinks with the quiet logic of a trained physicist and learned from her upbringing in Stasi East Germany to keep her cards close to her chest, Angela Merkel shies away from the grand gesture.

Although she has out-manouvered some of the country’s most powerful male politicians, she is the anti-Iron Lady. More minx than matron. I once witnessed George W Bush give her a back rub at a G8 summit. She purred with delight. Can you imagine Chancellor Kohl doing the same to the late Baroness Thatcher?

Angela Merkel’s nickname is Mutti or Mummy. This combination of sharp elbows and benign manners is fine for building and managing coalitions at home. She may even end up, as once before, leading a grand coalition with the opposition Social Democrats after Sunday’s vote (Just imagine David Cameron and Ed Miliband doing the same).

But it is not in Frau Merkel’s DNA to exert a leadership role in Europe and the German people don’t expect it. Once asked what her country’s greatest achievement was she answered: window seals and double glazing.

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11 reader comments

  1. Jenny Daniel says:

    Sexist headline? Why does a female politician have to be a minx or a matron?

  2. Jennifer Bridge says:

    Nothing wrong with this article apart from the GLARING casual sexism in the off-hand one line comment “More minx than matron”. It ads nothing to the article. In fact it diminishes the article and its author. I am so disappointed as I have enjoyed all that Matt Frei has written. I bought his series on Berlin on DVD and have watched it twice. The German people call her “Mutti”….mummy. “Minx” is sloppy degrading journalism.

    How would MF feel if his wife or daughters (assuming he has some) were called “Minx”.

    This is a good article diminished by one pointless line.

    1. Andrew Dundas says:

      My childhood hero Lucille Ball would have enjoyed that joke. She poked fun at men all the time. I howled with laughter.

      The growing numbers of women who make us laugh is a tribute to feminism. If those jokes are about men, that makes them even better!

      Angela is a great woman. Please Jennifer, don’t imply that Angela Merkel has no sense of humour!

      1. Jennifer Bridge says:

        According to Merriam-Webster dictionary a minx is “a sexually attractive and playful woman who often causes trouble”. It is also used to describe “a pert woman” and “a wanton woman”.

        I fail to see how Angela Merkel warrants any of those descriptions. I fail to see how my comments on this sexist tripe are transmuted into me accusing Angela of having no sense of humour.

        Ironically, in another place Andrew Marr was writing that she would not get elected in the UK as she’s too plain. Everyone has an opinion but none of these comments are about her policies.

        No doubt AM would brush this off as it’s pretty mild compared to other depictions of her e.g with Hitler moustache, topless and suckling, dripping with blood, as a dominatrix and as the Terminator.

        Have a look at #everydaysexism on twitter….small comfort to know she isn’t the only one on the receiving end of sexist jibes.

      2. Andrew Dundas says:

        Hello Jennifer,
        Have you had a good look at minx-girl.com? It’s an internet site marketing garments to women.

        Quite popular too. With women.

      3. Andrew Dundas says:

        For a better definition of what is meant by the description “Minx”, have a look at:


        We might also consider Minnie the Minx who is so much loved that Minnie has her statue in Dundee. Which is more than Angela has achieved so far.

  3. Andrew Dundas says:

    Financial Markets compare UK Government Bonds with German Bunds. Despite the atmosphere of crisis in 2009, the yield gap between UK and German Bond rates was 0.6%.

    Lord Snooty used to boasted repeatedly that his austerity regime had kept British interest rates down. We were keeping up with Merkel’s austerity regime.

    British Government 10 year Bond rates have now risen to 2.9%. That’s nearly a full percent higher than Germany’s Bond rate. Does that mean the austerity regime is failing? Or was Lord Snooty deceiving us?

  4. quietoaktree says:

    Minx or Matron -Sexist ?

    “Call a woman a kitten, but never a cat:
    you can call her a mouse, cannot call her a rat:
    call a woman a chicken, but never a hen!
    Or you severely will not be her caller again.

    You can call her a duck, cannot call her a goose,
    you can call her a deer, but never a moose;
    you can call her a lamb, but never a sheep;
    economic she likes, but you can’t call her cheap.

    You can say she is a vision, can’t say she’s sight.
    And no woman is skinny, she’s slender and slight.
    If she should burn you up, say she sets you a fire;
    and you’ll always be welcome, you tricky old liar.

    John Donovan
    1946 in the Saturday evening post

  5. quietoaktree says:

    Germany´s ´Sozialmarktwirtschaft´(Social Capitalism) is the reason for its success. This combined with its real fear of unemployment, inflation and war, more or less explains Germany.

    Merkel´s DDR (East Germany) had its Communism –the same fears and many of the ´Sozialmarktwirtschaft´ ideals. Her Christian upbringing was also no hinderance to its acceptance. Her ´right wing´ CDU party has the problem that she is more ´left wing´than many would like and the SPD (Social Democrats) have been ´out-lefted´.

    German austerity began 24 years ago with re-unification and is still in place — ´buying´ a bankrupt, ruined country with its 17 million citizens, comes at a price and a living standard drop in West Germany of Ca. 30% (at least).

    She is walking a tightrope with the problems of Europe and the drop in German living standards (from a high level), her level-headedness is what is expected from any ´Mutti´

  6. quietoaktree says:

    ´Mutti´ in Germany, is also used as an affectionate term for ´mother-in law´. While Merkel is attempting both roles– firstly at home and secondly within the EU, frictions and demands between her siblings and relatives require both ´Mutti´ usages.

    While this German election is seemingly lackluster– this alone is ´Mutti Merkel´s´ achievement. No matter how siblings and relatives misbehave and disrespect one another, her accepted role is to keep the larger family united.

    Many wish her to act as the Matron –handing out lollipops or spankings as deserved — and others see her apparent stubbornness as weakness.

    “Angela Merkel, who stands on the cusp of a third election victory in Sunday’s poll, is arguably the most powerful politician in the western world.”

    What should she do when faced with ´Family treachery´in both NATO and the EU ?


    “The German government has shown devastating weakness. Merkel should say, “You are manic, and what you are doing is sick.” That’s what friends do. Instead she weighs every word to avoid annoying the Americans. ”

    ´Cyber Attack: Belgians Angered by British Spying´


    “But it is not in Frau Merkel’s DNA to exert a leadership role in Europe and the German people don’t expect it.”

    — But how long can Merkel and Germany prevent Europeans from reverting to their old warmongering ways ?

  7. HenPen says:

    I am utterly surprised that anyone asks for a German politican to be a ‘leader’. The word ‘Fuehrer’ is not only a bad word in Germany! It is not too long ago that Angela Merkel was depicted with a Hitler moustache by Greeks, Italians and Spaniards during the Euro crisis.
    I am German, not traditionally a voter of the CDU but even I was tempted into voting for CDU- because of Merkel. She has so much which other politicians lack: modesty, tolerance, intelligence, humanity and, most of all, a personal vision of how she would like Germany and Europe to be. She works hard and doesn’t consider military intervention as a means of solving every conflict.
    Indeed, which mother would want to send her sons to war?

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