Thanks to good communication, making her appear sincere and modest, the German Chancellor is the country’s favorite politician in these times of health crisis.
The Chancellor is invisible. But she has never been so popular. According to the monthly barometer of public television (ARD), she is once again at the top of the list of the country’s most popular political figures. And her government’s action in the crisis is applauded by three-quarters of Germans. Never before has this barometer seen such an increase in a single month.
Angela Merkel, who has just come out of quarantine, led the country for fourteen days from her apartment in Berlin. Confined with her companion, Professor Joachim Sauer, to the fourth floor of a no-frills building in the centre of the capital opposite the Museum Island (the Berlin “Louvre”), the chancellor addressed the outside world by teleconference, without a picture.
“Take care of yourself and your loved ones.”
There’s no question of revealing his insides. Her privacy is sacred. Unlike his predecessors, who gladly showed their villas to journalists, Merkel never opened the door to this rented apartment. The only thing we know about this mysterious dwelling, guarded by two policemen on duty at the bottom of the building, is that she likes to bake plum pies there on weekends.
While Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump solemnly declared war on Covid-19, Angela Merkel chose another strategy to fight the invisible enemy: calm, pragmatism and a lack of haste. “She is a scientist,” says Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin (FU). She first gathers all the necessary elements before making a decision.”
She came out of her silence during her televised speech on 18 March, the only personal intervention in almost 15 years of reign (apart from the wishes), to appeal for “solidarity” and “responsibility” from her compatriots. No confinement. “But take care of yourself and your loved ones. I thank you for that,” she said.
His modesty and sincerity are always appreciated by the Germans. “She doesn’t have the imperial attitude that other heads of state and government have when addressing their constituents,” says Neugebauer. Two days later, she was shopping near her home. Witnesses reported that she bought four bottles of wine and a single packet of toilet paper. Merkel stood in line at the cash register, observing the social distancing that was required.
“She managed to communicate perfectly while delegating responsibility. Her ministers act completely autonomously,” explains Markus Linden, a political scientist at the University of Trier. And her main rival? Swept away by the crisis! Friedrich Merz, a former “shark” of international finance and pretender to the throne, has simply disappeared from the screens. “What could he possibly say? The crisis has shown that neo-liberalism [which he embodies] has spared the German health system,” insists Markus Linden.
The financial crisis, the euro crisis, the refugee crisis… The Chancellor loves hardship and her standing never suffers as a result. “She has always been popular,” says Linden. “For she does nothing without the consent of the people.” Even during the refugee crisis, Merkel bowed to public opinion, which was in favor of humanitarian policy. “She wouldn’t have survived politically if families with prams had been turned back at the border,” says the political scientist.
“Nothing to fear for their money”
For the countries of southern Europe, this popularity is more like a Germany first that doesn’t say its name. If Merkel refuses the mutualization of debts in Europe (Eurobonds), it is because the Germans do not want it. “Merkel knows that some countries will have to be helped financially in Germany’s interest too. But she won’t impose eurobonds on the Germans,” says Neugebauer. With her, taxpayers feel they have nothing to fear for their money.”
With such popularity, the press is already speculating about a new bid. “She could run again. But she won’t,” assures Markus Linden. At 65, Merkel has only one thing on his mind: staging his political farewell in 2021 to make it look like a victory. She would be the only head of government to leave power popularly and without being ousted by voters or parliament.