Angela Merkel is too important to ignore (Reuters)
Angela Merkel is now the most important European leader and German political figure of her generation with her third election victory. What she does in the near future is of immense importance to Europe and even the world as the biggest economic crisis is right on her doorstep.
Here IB Times UK takes a closer look at who she is, what she represents and how she influences lives thousands of miles beyond Germany's borders.
Angela Merkel's electoral success lies in her brilliant ability to occupy the centre-ground of German politics and stay there while stealing the political clothes of her opponents.
She is like other election winners before her such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton in that she has an uncanny talent for reading the mood of public opinion and tailoring her policies accordingly.
Merkel leads a conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but she has a real talent for populism and forging a consensus, which allows her to take on controversial issues while maintaining a high degree of popularity.
In many ways she does not have a deep vision of how she wants to use power but an instinct to obtain it and hold it at little cost to herself.
Merkel's Economic Policies
In many ways Merkel is a classical liberal who favours small government, low taxes and a decentralised state. Hard work, paying taxes and being a responsible citizen are important aspects of her political message and domestic appeal to German voters. She also continues the German economic tradition of believing in hard currency that retains its purchasing power through low inflation and high interest rates.
Social Justice Merkel Style
However, Merkel has also pursued policies that please left-wing voters like minimum wage laws in certain industries and banking reform. This has stolen the traditional base of Germany's main left-of-centre party, the Social Democrats (SDP) that used to beat German conservatives on these issues. Merkel combines a reputation of running the German economy efficiently, fused with a concern for social justice.
A Grand Coalition with the SPD might force Merkel to increase income tax more than she would want to, introduce a national minimum wage and get more government spending on infrastructure projects. However, these are all policies that Merkel has played around with before though and do not represent a radical break with her past behaviour. She is also skilled at reaching compromises.
Merkel's Energy Policy
On the question of nuclear power in Germany, she demonstrated her opportunism. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan undercut German support for atomic power. Merkel, who had been a champion of the nuclear industry, changed her policy completely and started to campaign against it. She maintains that policy to this day and will continue it in her third term.
Merkel's Attitude Towards Britain
Merkel sees the United Kingdom as a friend that could reshape the European Union in a more pro-market and competitive direction. David Cameron has received warm approaches from Merkel and the Franco-German partnership, which has been the foundation of the EU since 1945, is under strain as France and Germany have different views of the direction Europe should take. She may make more efforts to keep the UK in the EU over the next four years.
Merkel and the European Union
Merkel is cautious in her approach towards more European integration, as may be expressed in an ambitious banking and fiscal union. She understands the importance of Germany to the EU as the single currency's largest economy but also knows that many Germans, especially East Germans, are sensitive about bailing out bankrupt members of the monetary union. Although she has said the breakup of the eurozone would be catastrophic, she has not indicated how far Germany or she will go to fix the monetary union. Her cautious approach to crisis management will not change drastically in her third term.
Merkel and Austerity
Merkel's approach to bankrupt European states has been to impose severe spending cuts and talk about responsibility and a country living within its means. Her third election victory will probably not change her strategy in the way she deals with the eurozone crisis. Merkel will only go as far she thinks German public opinion will accept.
Merkel's third term will probably not be so different from her two previous terms in office. She will be cautious in making decisions, will not reveal too much, will remain pragmatic and will compromise where she needs to. Until a political rival enters German politics who is profoundly different from Merkel and offers a break with Merkel's era, it is difficult to see her being challenged in the near future.
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