The announcement this week from a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that she will stand again for a fourth term is a welcome relief. Frau Merkel is unquestionably the greatest leader in Europe today and in a world entering an increasing period of uncertainty with the exit of the UK from the European Union and the election of Donald J Trump, she stands tall as a beacon of stability and resolute, sensible, liberal leadership. Frau Merkel's mentor, the great Helmut Kohl, was the last German leader to secure a fourth term in office.
It will be fascinating to observe if Frau Merkel will be able to repeat the feat of her teacher and patron. In many ways Chancellor Merkel's political predicament, as she embarks upon securing a fourth term in the September 2017 Federal German elections, reminds me of the situation confronted by another conservative female leader and indeed fellow chemist, the British Prime Minister Mrs Margaret Thatcher as she headed towards an attempted fourth General Election in 1990, though thankfully for Europe and the world, Chancellor Merkel's political position is not as weakened as Prime Minister Thatcher's was at this stage of their respective tenures.
By 1990, after leading her party the Conservatives for an unprecedented 15 years and taking them through three General Election victories, Mrs Thatcher had been Prime Minister for 11 years. Like Frau Merkel, Mrs Thatcher was intent on carrying on through to a fourth term. And redolent of Merkel's domestic political situation as a fourth General Election approached, Mrs Thatcher faced significant internal party and national rumblings. The scale of domestic political and economic discontent that Margaret Thatcher was engulfed in by 1990 was even more severe than what Chancellor Merkel has experienced since she pushed ahead with her courageous and ultra-compassionate «Open Door» policy of taking in a million Syrian refugees, inaugurated in the summer of 2015.
If the human political world was governed upon the right moral principles and existed upon a more evolved, higher level of human consciousness, the immediate number one global priority of wealthy nations and their publics should be taking care of the mass exodus of Syrian refugees fleeing from a war zone in their own country. What is happening in Syria today is hell on earth. The world community is witnessing before it's very eyes the near total obliteration of an entire country and a genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet the response to this humanitarian catastrophe, particularly from Theresa May's Home Office and Britain, has been miserly at best, cruel at worst.
Not so with Angela Merkel's Germany. Germany above all the nations of Europe alongside Middle Eastern nations like Jordan, under the exemplary leadership of Angela Merkel, has risen to the occasion and shown that some political leaders still have a strong heart and moral conscience. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the cold, callous indifference of Theresa May while she was Home Secretary and now Prime Minister. There has, understandably, been some anxiety among the less sophisticated of German society, about this mass influx of refugees, mainly as per usual whipped up by the far right for tawdry electoral political gain, such as the disturbing Alternative for Deutschland. Chancellor Merkel's «Open Door» policy has weakened her standing among the German electorate and given her political opponents a rod to beat her with after a 10 year record which was almost unassailable.
Frau Merkel seems intent, as one would expect from the Iron Chancellor, to weather the storm and keep going. For Margaret Thatcher the situation by the time she approached standing again for a fourth term was even more precarious. Due to a deeply unpopular policy known colloquially as the «Poll Tax», even more unpopular than Merkel's «Opoen Door» policy and economic mismanagement which had led to a return of soaring inflation and double digit interest rates and an increasingly restive Conservative Party at war with itself over the issue of European integration and a long serving leader, Mrs Thatcher's political authority, in the country and her parliamentary party, began to deteriorate rapidly throughout 1990.
The British Labour Party, which Mrs Thatcher had consistently beaten at the ballot box three times in a row with significant majorities, began to overtake the Tories with substantial leads in the opinion polls. Many Conservative MPs began to grow concerned that with Mrs Thatcher still leading the party and intent on fighting a fourth General Election, they would lose their seats in a wipe out. Rather than hold their nerve and show loyalty to the leader who had gotten them elected in the first place, they began to plot her downfall.
However, for Mrs Thatcher, it was simply not in her nature to reverse course or be fazed by swings in popularity polls or the misgivings of what her Press Secretary called «the lilly livered beggars» that made up the vast majority of Tory members of the House of Commons. She would not countenance any attempts to ditch the Poll Tax though she did show flexibility over British entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism under pressure from the combined forces of her pro-European Chancellor John Major and Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd. By 1990, a General Election was due in Britain no later than the spring of 1992 and many speculated that Mrs Thatcher could either go to the country in the spring of 1991 (as she always preferred four year terms) in the aftermath of a successfully fought Gulf War or wait it out for better economic conditions into 1992.
The Prime Minister had made it clear she was not retiring after her 10th anniversary at No. 10 Downing Street and spoke of her desire to go «on and on and on» perhaps even up to the dawn of the new millennium. Alas by the autumn of 1990 the Conservatives were still trailing the Labour Party by a significant margin in the opinion polls and her MPs decided to brutally turn on her launching a coup. Mrs Thatcher was unceremoniously back stabbed and dumped by the very MPs who owed her their political careers. Her hopes of securing a fourth term were dashed, though her successor John Major, did achieve a fourth term for his party, though it was down hill from there for the Tories.
Will the same fate befall Angela Merkel with her Christian Democrat colleagues now that she has signaled she will indeed stand for a fourth term and lead the CDU into Federal Elections? The Chancellor has weathered drops in popularity before and shown her resilience and ability to endure such moments and come back to win when it is truly needed during a General Election. Midway through her second term, Merkel's approval plummeted in Germany, resulting in heavy losses in state elections for her party. An August 2011 poll found her coalition had only 36% support compared to a rival potential coalition's 51%. However, she scored well on her handling of the Euro crisis (69% rated her performance as good rather than poor), and her approval rating reached an all-time high of 77% in February 2012 and again in July 2014.
Merkel's approval rating dropped to 54% in October 2015, during the European migrant crisis and the implementation of the «Open Door» policy, the lowest since 2011.[According to a poll conducted after terror attacks in Germany Merkel's approval rating dropped to 47 % (August 2016). Half of Germans did not want her to serve a fourth term in office compared to 42 % in favor. However, according to a poll taken in October 2016, her approval rating had been found to have risen again, 54 % of Germans were found to be satisfied with work of Merkel as Chancellor.According to an another poll taken in November 2016, 59 % were to found to be in favour of a renewed Chancellor candidature of Merkel in 2017. So, unlike Mrs Thatcher by the autumn of 1990, Frau Merkel by the autumn of 2016 has stabilized her political popularity and approval.
The outgoing American President Barack Obama, showered Merkel with praise at a recent press conference, stating she was (unlike British Prime Ministers Gordon Brown, David Cameron & Theresa May) his closest political partner in Europe. President Obama also said if he had a vote in the German elections he would vote for Merkel. Chancellor Merkel is everything Europe and the international community needs in a political leader. She is intelligent, tough, compassionate, down to earth, hard working and courageous. She has a strategic vision based upon deeply held liberal principles, having experienced what it was like to grow up in Eastern Germany and being the daughter of a Protestant theologian and police man.
She has demonstrated she is an adept consensus builder and also a tower of strength having basically held together the European Union during some of its greatest existential challenges such as the Eurozone crisis and now the challenge of managing the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Merkel has pursued wise policies with regards to China and has shown that it is Germany which is America's most reliable and mature ally and partner in Europe, not Britain. If reelected, Chancellor Merkel will provide a much needed counterweight to a President Trump and could push forward with revolutionary European integration much the same way her mentor Helmut Kohl did, by creating a European Defence Community with a European army.
Chancellor Merkel could even restore Germany as a significant global military power, which is long over due. The German economy is the most efficient, dynamic and rigorous in Europe and the German army could become once again the strongest fighting force for collective European and global security. It is of course naturally taboo to discuss how the Wehrmacht was one of the most successful military forces of the 20th century but that is simply a historical fact. The British Army up against the Wehrmacht was consistently defeated most famously with the Fall of France while the Wehrmacht showed itself to be (almost) the equal of the Red Army.
Imagine what a force for global good a German Military of the imminently liberal and civilized Federal Republic of Germany could be for global security. With the UK withdrawing from Europe and becoming ever more insular and isolationist and its military not fit for purpose after years of cuts, which according to General Sir Richard Barron has left UK armed forces «withered» and unable to even protect the UK homeland from attack from a serious military power, it is high time for the peace and security of Europe that Germany return itself to the world stage as a major military power.