Chancellor of Germany
Angela Dorothea Merkel born July 17, 1954. She is a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and was nominated by that party for the post of Chancellor at the 2005 federal election, with almost all commentators predicting victory for the CDU. After the results of that election proved surprisingly close, three weeks of negotiations resulted in an agreement that should see Merkel become Chancellor in a Grand coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
Merkel has been chair of the CDU since 2000. She is a Member of the German Parliament, representing a constituency which includes the districts of Nordvorpommern and Rugen, as well as the city of Stralsund, in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. She will be the first female Chancellor of Germany, and the first woman to lead Germany since it became a modern nation state.
Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg, the daughter of Horst Kasner, a Lutheran pastor, and his wife Herlind nee Jentzsch, a teacher. In 1954 her father received a pastorship at the church in Quitzow at Perleberg, and the family moved to Templin. Merkel grew up in the countryside only 80km (50 mi) north of Berlin, in communist German Democratic Republic (GDR). She was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics (1973-1978). Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences (1978-1990). After graduating with a doctorate in physics she worked in quantum chemistry.
In 1989, she got involved in the growing democracy movement after the fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Demokratischer Aufbruch. Following the first democratic election in the GDR, she became the deputy spokesperson of the new government under Lothar de Maiziere. Following the first post-reunification general election in December 1990, her party merged with the CDU, and she became Minister for Women and Youth in Helmut Kohl's cabinet. In 1994, she was made Minister for the Environment and Reactor Safety, which gave her greater political visibility and a platform on which to build her political career. As one of Kohl's protegees and his youngest cabinet minister, she was referred to as "das Madchen" ("the girl") by Kohl.
Her background in the former GDR has served her well in politics. For the first 36 years of her life, she honed her skills at disguising her inner thoughts and feelings - essential for survival in a society where every room might contain a State Security Police (Stasi) informer, and especially for a pastor's daughter. Speaking near-perfect English and remarking on her background as an "Ossi", she says: "Anyone who really has something to say doesn't need make-up."
From 1977 until their divorce in 1982, she was married to physicist Ulrich Merkel. Since 1998, she has been married to Berlin chemistry professor Joachim Sauer and has no children.
Leader of the Opposition
When the Kohl government was defeated in the 1998 general election, Merkel was named Secretary-General of the CDU. In this position, Merkel oversaw a string of Christian Democrat election victories in six out of seven provincial elections in 1999 alone, breaking the Social Democrat/Green coalition's hold on the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the states. As a result of a party financing scandal which compromised many leading figures of the CDU (most notably Kohl himself and the then party chairman Wolfgang Schauble, Kohl's hand-picked successor), Merkel gained further. She criticized her former mentor, Kohl, advocated a fresh start for the party without him, and was subsequently rewarded by replacing Schauble to become the first female chair of her party. In November of 2001, despite her pledge to clean up the party, she refused to hold further inquiries into the financing scandal. Merkel's election on April 10, 2000 was surprising, as her personality offered a contrast to the party she had been chosen to lead; Merkel is a Protestant woman, originating from predominantly Protestant northern Germany, while the CDU is a male-dominated, socially conservative party with deep Catholic roots, and has its stronghold in southern Germany.
Following Merkel's selection as CDU leader, she enjoyed considerable popularity among the German population and was favoured by Germans to become Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's challenger in the 2002 election. However, she was unpopular in her own party and particularly its sister party (the Bavarian Christian Social Union, or CSU), and was subsequently out-manoeuvred politically by CSU leader Edmund Stoiber, who had had the privilege of challenging Schroder but squandered a large lead in the opinion polls to lose narrowly.
After Stoiber's defeat in 2002, in addition to her role as CDU chairwoman, Merkel became leader of the conservative opposition in the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag. Her rival, Friedrich Merz, who had held the post of parliamentary leader prior to the 2002 election, was eased out to make way for Merkel.
Merkel supports a substantial reform agenda concerning Germany's economic and social system. Merkel is considered to be more pro-free market (and pro-deregulation) than her own party (the CDU); she has advocated changes to German labour law, specifically, removing barriers to firing employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week, arguing that current laws make the country less competitive because companies cannot easily control labour costs at times when business is slow.
Merkel believes there should be a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. In the spring of 2003, defying strong public opposition, Merkel came out in favour of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, describing it as "unavoidable" and accusing Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of anti-Americanism. This led some critics to characterize her as an American lackey.
She opposes Turkish European Union membership and favours a "privileged partnership" instead. In doing so, she is seen as being in unison with an overwhelming majority of Germans who reject Turkish membership in the European Union, particularly due to fears that large waves of immigration may impose an unbearable burden on Germany and that there would be too much Islamist influence within the EU.
She believes that the existing nuclear power stations should be phased out less quickly than is advocated by the current government.