What are Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel’s views on the business of government?
March 8, 2007
Angela Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor in November 2005 — and assumed the EU’s rotating presidency in January 2007. She leads both Germany and the EU at a time of profound challenges. In this Read My Lips feature, we present her views on her lifetime experience with Europe, her former status as an outsider, the EU agenda — and the business of government.
What makes you uniquely qualified to lead the EU?
“I have spent my whole life in Europe. And yet, I am still a relatively youngster in the European Union. That is because I grew up in the former German Democratic Republic — and only 17 years ago, after German reunification and the collapse of the socialist system, was I, together with many millions of others, accepted into the European Union.”
How does this provide you with a unique perspective?
“Until the age of 35, I only knew the European Union from the outside — and have only been an insider since 1990.”
Which are the most serious challenges facing the EU — and humanity as a whole?
“Access to energy and climate protection are the two greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century.”
What is Europe’s defining virtue?
“Europe is the continent of tolerance. Tolerance is a demanding virtue — yet in no way must it be confused with arbitrariness and sitting on the fence.”
What is your ultimate goal in politics?
“We want a society that will reconcile markets and people.”
How can that be accomplished?
“The role of politics is to manage competition to make it as efficient as possible, while ensuring that the state is able to support the weakest.”
What about Germany and the challenges of globalization?
“We look at the challenges that globalization entails — and we would explain to our people that in order to meet the social challenges ahead, we need to be economically strong. And I think that what we need to do is convince our people to believe in themselves — and to believe that even in the face of the challenges of globalization, prosperity and social equality are possible.”
Is it working?
“We have reached a point where we have a shortage of 10,000 engineers every year, because young people don’t believe or have no hope that they have a chance to make a living as engineers in Germany.”
Is the EU process of any help?
“We in Europe are unfortunately at a point where a great many decisions aren’t being reached — and a standstill is the worst thing for Europe.”
How do you see the United States fitting into your calculations?
“There will not ever be a strong and unified Europe that is against America. Europe must retrieve its economic dynamism or be automatically of less importance for the Americans.”
What is the key element to improving relations with the United States?
“A climate of openness has to exist, an area where one says quite clearly and candidly to one another, ‘Well, there we agree, there we disagree.’ But there also has to be a climate of absolute trust, of reliability, where one stands by what one has agreed upon.”
Do you believe in personal diplomacy?
“What is important to me is to have as many international contacts as possible — because misunderstandings occur when you don’t meet enough, when you don’t talk to each other enough.”
What is your biggest challenge in economic terms?
“Our growth hasn’t picked up in years. Our debt has risen to alarming levels.”
Has Germany maxed out its potential?
“This land has great possibilities, and Germany is full of opportunities. I am looking forward to unleashing this dormant energy.”
How would you describe the modern form of the social contract?
“We can only give to the weak — if we have the strong who can help them.”
What is the most straightforward guideline for reforms?
“We must keep what has proven its worth — but change what burdens us.”
Is there anything that helps you in executing your job?
“I have been repeatedly underestimated, and it’s a role I can live with well.”
Some believe you are modeling yourself after former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. How do you respond?
“I have no role model.”
How do you respond to critics who say you are not producing results fast enough?
“There will not be a big bang in Germany which will suddenly move us on, but we need to move fast and decisively every day — even if we do not see the fruits of our labors for three or four years.”
How does that fit into the German psyche?
“Change is so often associated in Germany with a turn for the worse. People need to see it as an opportunity as well.”
How has unification changed Europe for the better?
“The European Union is one of the most impressive works of peace on Planet Earth. European unification is a happy achievement for the people of Europe. It safeguards their freedom and paves the way for prosperity.”
Finally, in what way did Germany's reunification change your own life?
“I had banked on many things, but not on receiving the gift of freedom before my retirement. Once you have been surprised in such a positive way, a lot seems possible.”