Opinion: A Clear Signal for Germany | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 23.11.2005
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Opinion: A Clear Signal for Germany

Angela Merkel is Germany's new chancellor and the first woman to get the job. She faces a tough time ahead, but as DW's Nina Werkhäuser comments, Merkel represents a double departure for Germany.


More than a chancellor, more than a woman

A giant poster baring the words "a new beginning" decorates the Christian Democrat Union party headquarters in Berlin. On it is Angela Merkel, Germany's first ever female leader, looking like she means business.

If there is one thing Germany really needs right now it is a fresh start. The political situation has been stagnant for over a year, the Hartz IV program of reformed unemployment benefit regulations came, Schröder began to fade out and the nation drifted along in no particular direction. By the time the national ballot came knocking, the electorate had had its fill of the red-green alliance, but couldn't muster sufficient trust in a conservative-liberal union. Thus the grand coalition.

Germa n y catchi n g up

The fact that it is headed by a woman makes it a double departure. Firstly, with a comfortable majority in both the Bundestag and Bundesrat, the first and second houses of parliament, the new government has the chance to continue down the road of modernizing the nation's social policies and overhauling the state coffers. And secondly, Germany has finally done what has been acceptable in other countries for a long time, in recognizing that a woman can hold the reins of power, and fail or succeed just as a man can.

On her path to the Chancellery, Angela Merkel has had to clear countless hurdles, find her way out of tailspins and fight off relentless attacks. She deserves respect and recognition for the fact, that despite such ups and downs, she has never given up. Not least because many of the negative comments aimed at Merkel were as much about her implied incompetence as a woman as her political intentions.

No special treatme n t

There are some powerful figures among her own conservatives who made a habit out of waiting for her to make her next slip in order to creep past her and make their own bid for the chancellor's chair. Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder initially found the idea of passing his office on to a woman unimaginable, but has now voted for the 51-year-old woman from the former East Germany.

One of Merkel's strengths is that she knows about political power games. Just as she is unwilling to grant anybody special treatment, she expects none for herself. She knows how to listen, how to reach compromises and she wants to affect change. The question now is whether she and her ministers can get it together to generate a genuine shift in the country.

The fact that 51 conservative and Social Democratic parliamentarians did not grant Merkel their vote is no reason for pessimism, but it does show that this grand marriage of convenience is an experiment, and goes hand-in-hand with a whole gamut of risks and opportunities. Parliamentary President, Norbert Lammert described Merkel's election as "a clear signal for many women, and doubtless some men too." But the main thing is that it becomes a clear signal for Germany.

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