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Chancellor Merkel, G20 and the German election campaign

Sabine Kinkartz
Sabine Kinkartz
May 1, 2017

While Germany enjoys the day off on International Workers' Day, the German chancellor has been busy doing her job, without a break. There are many reasons for this, writes DW's Sabine Kinkartz.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud stands next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a reception ceremony in Jeddah
Image: Reuters/ Saudi Royal Court/Bandar Algaloud

Angela Merkel is a veteran politician. Now in the 12th year of her chancellorship, she has pretty much seen and gone through everything at least once. She knows where danger lurks, and she also knows very well what she can use to her advantage: for example, the German G20 presidency. Anyone who knows the political ropes can shine as the chair of the circle of the world's most important economies - quite a gift for for Merkel ahead of this year's German parliamentary elections.

She has to work for it, of course. When the G20 heads of government and heads of state meet in Hamburg at the beginning of July, the agenda must be ready. This pertains to the ongoing question of the world economy, as well as the issues that Germany is highlighting in its presidency, such as African issues, climate protection and women's policy. That is why the German chancellor has been traveling a great deal in the past weeks. Presidents, sovereigns and government heads must be provided with information and brought on board for mutual causes so that Hamburg conveys only positive messages and images of unity and harmony.

Foreign policy is good for popularity ratings

Angela Merkel does not only serve her duties as G20 president when she travels to the USA, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Russia. She is still the German chancellor and she opens doors for the German economy. As the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), she is running as the party's candidate for the elections. If all her different roles are carefully staged and orchestrated, they can complement each other and provide inspiration. Politically, it is old hat to score domestically when you cut a good figure on the international stage. This is probably why former Social Democratic Party (SPD) chairman and German minister of economic affairs Sigmar Gabriel is now more popular than ever with the electorate in his role as foreign affairs minister.

When she visited Saudi Arabia, Chancellor Angela Merkel conducted negotiations in security policy and the fight against terror. As G20 president, she promoted climate protection, which in return offers the German economy many opportunities in the field of renewable energy. By meeting female entrepreneurs, Merkel focused on women's policy and underscored the fact by wearing a pantsuit and no head covering, as always, while she stood next to Saudi sheikhs.

Kinkartz Sabine Kommentarbild App
DW's Sabine Kinkartz

Merkel has authority

On a trip to a country where women traditionally have little say in politics, the German chancellor is accepted by the powerful men. Merkel thus exudes strength and confidence. It is a message that is by all means aimed at the German electorate as well.

At the same time, the chancellor avoids confrontation. She tries to mediate and strike a balance. Her policies are pragmatic and geared towards achieving results. She always seeks compromise without coming across as yielding.

Things will continue this way in Russia where Merkel is meeting Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. The Russian president is receiving the chancellor at his holiday residence in Sochi, a beach and spa resort on the Russian Riviera. Is there a deeper reason for this meeting location? Putin chose it. Little happens in politics without ulterior motives and talks are more relaxed in a beautiful environment. The G20 summit is on the agenda here as well, especially the international diplomatic trouble spots, like the Ukraine conflict and the war in Syria. Here too, the lines between chancellor, G20 president and election campaigner will be blurred.

Not much ado about Martin Schulz

Angela Merkel knows that she looks better on an international political stage than in a rural election campaign in Hicksville, Germany. School gymnasiums and market squares are not really her thing. When she travels from Berlin to a small town, she seems out of place - which doesn't make her more popular. No, she prefers election campaigns that involve her everyday work as German chancellor, top-level diplomat and internationally recognized crisis manager.

Thanks to the G20 presidency, she can live out these roles to her heart's desire until July. She can thus face critics who have been hassling to her to become more active in the election campaign by saying, "Hey, look here, I am actually fighting," and then show her popularity ratings to validate her point. Opinion polls have her party, the CDU, ahead of the SPD. These days, you hear very little about the SPD candidate for the chancellery who started with a bang, Martin Schulz, even though he is tirelessly campaigning throughout the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein. But he only makes appearances at school gymnasiums and market squares. A G20 chair is definitely a blessing for his opponent.

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