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Germany

The Merkel phenomenon

Angela Merkel is extremely frugal with her emotions, and her speeches aren't overly arousing. But many Germans feel comfortable with her and yearn for continuity. How does all this fit together?

Angela Merkel biographer Jacqueline Boysen described the chancellor as "intelligent and hard working" - not to mention incorruptible, she added, which has made her particularly popular. But there is something else about Merkel that Germans like: continuity.

In a study by the Rheingold Institute in Cologne, psychologists analyzed the desires of Germans shortly before the federal elections. Germans overwhelmingly sought continuity, orientation and calm after the turbulent euro crisis.

Rock-solid

"And that is exactly what they believe to have found in Angela Merkel," said Thomas Kirschmeier of the Rheingold Institute. For many Germans, she is as solid as a rock.

German Chancellor Merkel REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Chancellor Merkel is more popular than ever

According to Kirschmeier, for Merkel, it's always about the issue and not her ego. "She comes across as someone who doesn't seek power for the sake of remaining in power," he told DW. He added that people believe her when, at the start of a legislative session, she begins with the sentence: "I will serve the nation."

At the federal elections on Sunday, Germans gave Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) 8 percent more of the total vote than in the previous election. Could the reason be that Merkel is seen to mirror the Germans?

The international community sees it this way, said Boysen, "because Merkel embodies virtues such as punctuality and pragmatism." She is also viewed as trustworthy. And many Germans especially appreciate Merkel's calm approach to decision-making.

Sitting out problems

But exactly that is what rattles her critics. Thomas Oppermann, parliamentary secretary of the CDU's main rival the Social Democratic Party (SPD), accuses Merkel of sitting out problems. With the Prism surveillance affair, for instance, the chancellor first sent Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich into the line of fire, and only took a position weeks later. Another criticism is that Merkel is not much of a visionary, and never explains what her decisions will lead to.

Campaign poster REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Merkel has a few nicknames, among them Angie and 'Mutti'

But this sets the chancellor apart, Boysen thinks. "She is completely non-ideological and not bound to old traditions determined by the party platform," the biographer says. She has used this freedom to modernize the party - for instance, by introducing parental benefits, ending military conscription and phasing out nuclear energy.

Sharp attacks from her critics in the SPD and the Green Party have not been able shake this basic trust. Former Greens Chairman Claudia Roth, for instance, had accused Merkel of running a campaign void of contention.

'Mutti Merkel'

Many Germans view the chancellor as the nation's mother. "Angela Merkel has something motherly about her," admitted Kirschmeier, even though Merkel has no children. She was given the nickname "Mutti" (a short form of Mutter in German, or mother in English) by some members of her own party - whose initial intention, however, wasn't friendly.

Party enemies wanted to impute a certain over-protectiveness to her and play on her history in the former East Germany. But the "Mutti" moniker has since taken on a positive connotation, said Boysen, "because German voters and citizens trust Merkel; she cares."

Now, as the incumbent chancellor, Merkel has to care about her daily duties - and a top priority is to find a coalition partner. Boysen doesn't expect this will be the Greens, but was quick to add: "Angela Merkel has achieved one thing above all over the years: she's surprised us."

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