x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Mrs Merkel taps into desire for anti-politicians

The German Chancellor may well be proof that voters want their leaders to be less like performers and salespeople and more competent managers of their economic fortunes.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel likely to win a third term in office on September 22 and retain her title as the world's most powerful woman, it is worth contemplating the secrets behind her success.

It is easy to cite the usual factors related to ballot box popularity, such as Germany's low unemployment and its stable economy, but one suspects that another factor is also important: Angela Merkel's persona as an anti-politician.

In a world awash with slick professional politicians who operate via pithy sound bites and whose moral compass is based only on the latest focus group research, she seems like a throwback.

Given the mess into which many of these slick politicians have frequently led their nations in recent years, it is understandable that their appeal has waned.

Yet leaders with a proven track record are at a premium on the world stage at present. It is worth remembering that of the European leaders who were in place when the global financial crisis began in 2008, only Mrs Merkel and her Swedish counterpart, Fredrik Reinfeldt, remain in office.

Some have ascribed her dour style to being brought up in what was then communist East Germany, which was as grey and forbidding an environment as can be imagined. Germany's economic performance is even more remarkable given that it had to integrate and reinvigorate the crumbling GDR state less than a quarter of a century ago.

Much of Mrs Merkel's style was on display in the televised debate on Sunday with her Social Democrat opponent Peer Steinbrück.

This was in effect his only chance at a game-changing performance to reverse his trailing poll numbers but the debate was notable for being civil and unspectacular, dealing with topics as emotionally charged as pension reform and the equity of low wages.

The closest it came to actual controversy was to do with her necklace, which was in the German national colours of red, gold and black but in the wrong order to emulate the flag.

One suspects this ordinariness is what German voters seek now. They want their leaders to be less like performers and salespeople and more competent managers of their economic fortunes.

Given the relative success of the German economy, the voters of other European nations might do well to take note.