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Merkel's return

Peter Stützle / sgbAugust 14, 2012

Angela Merkel is back from her vacation. The euro zone crisis is just one of many problems waiting in the wings for her. But near the top of her agenda this week is a business trip to Canada.

Angela Merkel (dpa)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

In recent years, Canada has become a popular holiday destination for Germans. Angela Merkel prefers resorts closer to home. But a few days after her hiking trip to South Tyrol, the chancellor flies to the Canadian capital of Ottawa on Thursday - on a business trip, but probably a fairly relaxed one. The relationship with NATO ally Canada is traditionally problem-free; Canada's political culture is more similar to that of European neighbors than to that of the United States.

The trip to Canada can be seen as a sign that Merkel isn't letting the euro crisis get the better of her. Her hands are tied at present on many aspects of the fateful issue. Germany, the rest of Europe and the world's financial markets have to wait on decisions from Germany's Constitutional Court and the so-called troika.

Things get serious in September

On September 12, the German court will announce whether the permanent euro rescue fund (ESM) and the European fiscal pact are constitutional. If the judges say no, Europe, and above all Merkel, will have a huge problem.
Meanwhile, the troika of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund is checking whether Greece meets the requirements for a further assistance payment. It wants to announce the results before mid-September. If the troika says no, Europe will also have a very big problem.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert gave assurances that, in spite of everything, the chancellor is in good spirits on her first day back at work. Like others coming back from their holiday, she enjoyed the change of pace, but is returning to work with a sense of anticipation.

"There is now a great deal of energy, which you will experience in the coming days and weeks," Seibert said.

Much work ahead

She will need drive and energy. In the past few days, German media have made lists of everything the chancellor can expect apart from the euro crisis. As points of contention within Merkel's coalition, the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" listed care subsidies for parents of young children, pension supplements for low earners, the implementation of energy policy, the decision whether to try to ban the far-right NPD party, the retention of telecommunications data to fight crime, the new electoral law demanded by the Constitutional Court and the equal treatment of homosexual partnerships in taxation matters. Added to this is the controversial tax treaty with Switzerland, which has become a point of contention between the federal and state governments.
However, this was now Merkel's seventh summer break as chancellor, and in earlier years, it was no different. Many a politician uses the slow news time to set an agenda. That's what Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ursula von der Leyen did with her initiative for pension supplements, which promptly outraged her coalition partners, the Free Democrats, and the pro-business wing of her own party, the Christian Democrats.

What's more, all the media outlets make efforts over the summer to fill pages and airtime with interviews with politicians - often eliciting controversial statements from their conversation partners. When the boss is back, these statements must be combined into a common platform. The process generally works.

The "C question"

The summer break the year before a general election has another special feature that benefits the head of government. Many years ago, a journalist for the Süddeutsche Zeitung called it "the C question." There is a discussion as to which opposition politician would be the best candidate to take on the chancellor in the election. Every mention of a C hopeful is then interpreted as an attempt to improve that person's position in the C question. This is what is now happening to the three potential Social Democratic chancellor candidates, Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück.
The newly elected Minister President of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Torsten Albig, has publicly endorsed Steinmeier as chancellor candidate. SPD General Secretary Andrea Nahles, who, like Merkel, is returning from her summer holiday, said after a telephone conference of the party leadership: "This form of navel gazing primarily helps Ms. Merkel and thus needs to stop immediately."

The Greens are also doing the chancellor and the governing parties the favor of publicly discussing their top candidates for the parliamentary election. This is ultimately part and parcel of a democracy, just like differences of opinion in a coalition. And the process may just lead Angela Merkel to relish getting back into the thick of things.

Former German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck (L-R), Social Democratic (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel and SPD faction leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier (REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer)
Sigmar Gabriel, Peer Steinbrück and Frank Walter Steinmeier want Merkel's jobImage: Reuters
Ursula von der Leyen (Berthold Stadler/dapd)
Fellow party members oppose Von der Leyen's pension plansImage: dapd
The German Constitutional Court (Reuters/Alex Domanski)
The court has Germany's government on tenterhooksImage: Reuters