The Brief – Happy Birthday, Angela!

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Today is Angela Merkel’s 64th birthday. Her style of governing stands for stability and reliability, two characteristics embodied by the so-called Merkel diamond, her typical hand gesture. And if you think she’s never been weaker and will cave in to mounting challenges, think again.

At the very start of her political career, Angela Merkel was considered discreet and shy – until she broke with her political mentor Helmut Kohl and demonstrated her own willingness to use power.

When Merkel first entered the white male-dominated German political world, framed by this very West German idea of Rhineland capitalism, many in Bonn, Germany’s capital before the government moved to Berlin, underestimated her. Indeed, long-time chancellor Kohl adopted a patronising tone by calling her ‘girl’.

But many had to rethink their positions, including her former political mentor, who then fell from grace spectacularly.

In late 1999, a finance scandal hit the CDU and saw Kohl deeply implicated in the use of slush funds. In a now-famous open letter published on 22 December, Kohl’s former protégée called on the party to make a fresh start without its honorary chairman, dropping a political bombshell that would reverberate for a long time.

Since then, Merkel has seemed to quietly break new ground on many political fronts.

In April 2000, she became the first female conservative CDU party leader, a post she is still holding 18 years later. She has also been a member of the Bundestag for 28 years.

On November 22, 2005, Merkel took office as chancellor, becoming the first woman, the first East German, and, at age 51, the youngest person to date to hold the office.

More than a decade of power showed different coalition partners in Germany coming and going as well as global leaders, and she is still in power.

She has topped the Forbes list of the most powerful women of the world seven times. In 2015, Time Magazine named her Person of the Year and called her the chancellor of the free world.

What does this mean? Allow me to dig into my personal German experience. My daughter was born in Frankfurt, where she currently lives, in 2005. She will be 16 when Angela Merkel ends her fourth term.

That means her generation will have only known Merkel as Germany’s chancellor. It means this generation is growing up with a strong feeling of living in a very stable country – a trait that gives them confidence and optimism about their own future.

In comparison, being French, British and American, I had to deal with the aftermath of the two political turmoils that are the election of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Many of my daughter’s generation live with refugees in their immediate environment, be it at school or in neighbouring shelters, or through selling home-made cakes in order to raise money to finance refugee projects.

So much has been said about the so-called ‘refugee crisis, and so much blown out of proportion. Yes, the far-right AfD is leading the opposition in the current parliament because of the “open-door” refugee policy of Merkel.

Yes, the CDU-CSU (and the SPD) had their worst showing in nearly 70 years. Yes, she was under a never-experienced-before political pressure by the CSU of Bavaria.

And the point is this: she was. And no longer is.

When I phoned some German colleagues in Berlin to ask them about the probability of seeing Merkel having to resign, their unanimous response was that she is too strong to have to leave the political stage. It will take a significant amount of her effort, though, to defend her leadership.

Today is also world emoji day. Is it really a coincidence?


The Roundup

By Sam Morgan

The EU and Japan finally put pen to paper on what is now the bloc’s largest trade deal.

In whales news, Iceland pledged to investigate its whaling industry after allegations one company illegally killed a protected blue whale. In Wales news, the Principality’s top politician urged the EU to help the UK avoid a “catastrophic Brexit no-deal”.

Britains’ electoral commission confirmed that the Leave campaign broke the law in 2016’s referendum, after the news leaked a few weeks ago.

France and Germany are in agreement that the EU’s farming budget should not be cut, Sweden is smashing energy targets over a decade before the deadline and Russia and Ukraine are locked in EU-helmed talks about gas supply.

Reunification talks on Cyprus collapsed earlier this year but look set to ramp up again under new UN leadership. Thailand hopes to do away with illegal fishing and forced labour by the end of the year.

Weren’t we always told that, when in doubt, always buy gold? Looks like another piece of fake news.

Look out for…

Croatians finally starting to get over their hangovers, as one of the biggest celebrations in the nation’s short history cools down.

Views are the author’s

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