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Sticking to Her Guns or Going with the Flow

Assessing Rigidity and Flexibility in Angela Merkel’s Political Decision Making

Christian Schnee

This paper investigates levels of rigidity and flexibility in Angela Merkel’s decision making during her first three governments from 2005 to 2017. The study is a contribution to understanding German politics in the era of Merkel who has regularly been criticized for allegedly lacking a transformative agenda and ideological consistency. Methodologically this study draws on Jonathan Keller’s framework that differentiates between internally and externally validated leaders, with the latter seeking to appease and curry favor with stakeholders and the former committed to their personal believes. The study assesses Merkel’s decisions on fiscal and economic policies, zooms in on her u-turn on nuclear energy, touches upon her dithering during the Euro crisis and discusses at some length her protracted coming to terms with the refugee crisis. Findings suggest her flexibility to be predominantly a reflection of political expediencies and intended to preserve her party’s political compatibility with potentially supportive stakeholders. Her approach thus is in line with the agenda to manage coalition governments successfully, moderate and conciliate divergent interests and thus secure their position in power.

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Clay Clemens

As chair of the CDU in 2000, and of its joint Bundestag caucus with the CSU in 2002, Angela Merkel was the fist woman and fist easterner to head a major German party; she had risen as a protege of Helmut Kohl, but breaking with him over his financial improprieties vaulted her into power. These features of her biography made her leadership unconventional. So too did her style, characterized by interpersonal reserve and lack of charisma. Merkel's views on cultural issues and economic policy-in particular, reform of the welfare state-were more liberal than those of her Union's mainstream. Finally, her resources within the CDU/CSU were limited to a loose network of younger outsiders, who helped sustain her against rivals at the Land level. While Merkel survived a poor CDU/CSU election in 2005 to become chancellor, her time as opposition leader suggested that she would struggle in that role too, yet also served as a caution against underrating her.

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Kan-di(e)-dat?

Unpacking Gender Images across Angela Merkel’s Four Campaigns for the Chancellorship, 2005-2017

Joyce Marie Mushaben

Angela Merkel’s four national election campaigns offer a unique opportunity to explore the salience of gender in defining “competent leadership” in unified Germany. Women-friendly themes were deliberately avoided by the candidate and her party during her first two campaigns, but Merkel’s personal popularity rendered gender a positive asset during her third run for the Chancellorship in 2013. The 2017 campaign accorded new salience to gender as an electoral variable, albeit with a twist. The new dilemma for Germany’s first female leader was rooted in the need to win back alienated, if apolitical conservative men, attracted to an increasingly xenophobic Alternative for Germany. Although the GDR gender regime actively supported working women, eastern men appear to feel particularly threatened by the concrete advances towards gender equality witnessed across Germany since unification.

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Joyce Marie Mushaben

Angela Merkel has not only been repeatedly ranked “the world’s most powerful woman;” she is also the only German chancellor since 1949 to have successfully led her party to a “normal” victory after a full term heading a grand coalition from 2005-2009. Merkel’s ability to lead has been shaped by the dynamics of coalition politics, proportional representation, and German federalism. Perceived as a more successful leader under an exceptional grand coalition than under a typical CDU/CSU-FDP constellation, Merkel provides a one-woman-laboratory for comparing the impact of different coalition modes on the chancellor’s powers and limitations on her ability to rule. The study offers a two-level analysis, comparing Merkel’s performance atop a “gender balanced” Grand Coalition (2005-2009) with Hans- Georg Kiesinger’s maledominated Grand Coalition (1966-1969). It then contrasts leadership dilemmas confronting Merkel during her first term with those arising during her second chancellorship, 2009-2013. It urges scholars to “bring the institutions back in” when considering the skills female leaders must evince in order to manage divergent coalition types: grand coalition configurations may, in turn, require men to adopt leadership behaviors usually ascribed to women in order to prove effective cross-party managers.

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Isabelle Hertner and Alister Miskimmon

This article outlines how Germany has sought to project a strategic narrative of the Eurozone crisis. Germany has been placed center stage in the Eurozone crisis, and as a consequence, the German government's crisis narrative matters for the future of the common currency. We highlight how the German government has sought to narrate a story of the cause of the Eurozone crisis and present policy solutions to influence policy decisions within the EU and maintain domestic political support. This focus on the public communication of the crisis is central to understanding the development of Germany's policy as it was negotiated with EU partners, the U.S. and international financial institutions. We draw on speeches and interviews by Chancellor Angela Merkel and two of her senior cabinet ministers delivered at key moments of the Eurozone crisis between May 2010 and June 2012. The article argues that while Merkel and her governments have been able to shore up domestic support for her Eurozone policies, she has struggled to find a coherent strategic narrative that is both consistent with German domestic preferences and historical memory, and with those of other Eurozone members.

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Myra Marx Ferree

Considering Angela Merkel as a female candidate raises questions of the extent to which political leadership has become degendered in recent decades. Three issues of gender and politics are considered here: the changes in expectations for women in public life, the shift in defining what is a "woman's interest" and how women may represent such interests, and the degree to which women challenge the "old boys' networks" with alternative connections to women and provide a critical mass rather than just an individual in office. The implications of each of these dimensions for assessing the impact of Merkel on German politics are considered. I suggest that her role can be seen as a feminist one, even if her own politics are not.

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Charles Lees

The eighteenth Bundestag elections of 22 September 2013 brought important changes to the Bundestag party system, some of which are contingent but others of which are more systemic and profound. The narrow failure of the FDP to scale the electoral threshold has had an impact on coalition negotiations and the improvement in the overall vote share for the CDU/CSU and the SPD, for the first time since the 1960s represents a significant, if probably only temporary, concentration of the German party system in the Bundestag. More systemically, the election saw a continuation of the ongoing redistribution of voting power in the Bundestag in favor of the catch-all parties as formateurs. The article also discusses how the increased importance of the potential formateuer parties has gone hand-in-hand with a greater focus on the individual leading candidates, and concludes that this is particularly good news for the CDU/CSU, given the political qualities of Angela Merkel and the failure of the SPD to find and support a leading candidate that can match her political acumen.

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Clay Clemens

Four inter-related factors shaped the 2017 campaign of Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU: (1) ambivalence over her successful modernization of the CDU; (2) fallout from her 2015 refugee policy; (3) a party strategy that bred complacency while mobilizing skeptics; and (4) tactical miscalculations. Merkel’s CDU/CSU came in first, but suffered record losses, while the rightwing populist Alternative for Germany emerged as Germany’s third party. The campaign, its result and—with a fragmented and polarized party system— her need to build another grand coalition all seemed sure to fuel recrimi - nations within the CDU/CSU over identity, strategy, and personnel in a post Merkel era.

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Germany and the United States

Whither “Partners in Leadership”?

Matthew Rhodes

In 1989, U.S. President George H.W. Bush presented a vision of the United States and Germany as “partners in leadership” in building a peaceful and secure post Cold War world. A confluence of factors brought this vision closest to realization during the overlapping tenures of U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Persistent limitations and shifting conditions including the election of U.S. President Donald Trump now call the future viability of the vision into question, even as U.S.-German ties remain the most plausible anchor of cooperative transatlantic ties in a period of global change.

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Ruth Wittlinger

Angela Merkel came to power at a crucial time in regards to Germany's relationship with its past. Where would she position herself in light of Gerhard Schröder's approach that had offered a new way of accepting responsibility for the past and integrating it into the twenty-first century present by explicitly making it a key element of German national identity, but also in view of her East German biography? Would she continue and maybe even reinforce the institutionalization of Holocaust-centered memory and-given the forceful return of the topic of German victimhood-complement it with the institutionalization of the memory of German suffering, or would she emphasize the latter at the expense of the former? This paper attempts to answer these questions by examining Merkel's politics of the past during her first three years in office.