She chaired the G8 committee and established the Transatlantic Economic Council to strengthen economic relations between the European Union and its neighbouring nations. Up to today, Angela is still referred to as the “de facto” leader of the EU.
Angela was also one of the key figures in helping the European Union get through the crisis that almost bankrupted its members. Through the policies that she enacted during her term as the EU’s president, she was able to manage the financial turmoil and prevent most of the member states from being greatly affected.
Angela has an extensive background in politics—from being a representative for the Bundestag to Germany’s chancellor. Prior to her joining politics, she was also an accomplished physical chemist. She has received numerous awards for her efforts in keeping the European Union intact as well as for her fortitude in handling the financial crisis that hit Europe. Since 2006, Angela has always been listed as one of the most powerful women in the world by Forbes Magazine, coming to number two this 2013.
Born in 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany, Angela is the eldest child of Horst Kasner, a Lutheran pastor and theologian; and Herlind Jentzsch, an English and Latin teacher. Angela has two siblings: Marcus (who was born in 1957) and Irene (born in 1964).
Prior to meeting his wife, Horst Kasner was a member of the Hitler Youth, where his last service position was that of a troop leader. There is little information about his military service, except for the fact that he became a prisoner of war at the age of 19, during the close of the Second World War.
After being released in 1948, Horst decided to take up theology, first studying at Heidelberg and then transferring to Hamburg, where he met his wife Herlind, who at that time was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. They fell in love and got married, and soon after had their first child, Angela.
There is some dispute regarding Angela’s heritage due to her claim in an interview with Der Spiegel in 2000 that she was a quarter Polish. Several attempts were made to prove this claim, the most famous being the Preußische Allgemeine Zeitung (a German weekly newspaper), who conducted research to check whether Angela was referring to her maternal grandparents, Willi Jentzsch and Gertrud Drange. Upon the completion of their research, the German newspaper concluded that both of Angela’s maternal grandparents were of German descent and that they settled in Danzig, where Willi Jentzsch worked as a Gymnasium teacher.
A few weeks after her birth, Angela’s parents moved to Quitzow, a small village in the Northeastern part of East Germany, after Horst received a pastor’s position in the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. This was due to the wishes of the then Bishop of Hamburg, Hans-Otto Wolber, who was concerned that there was a shortage of pastors in East Germany.
In 1957, they moved to Templin after Horst took a position in the religious education office. Many of Horst’s fellow pastors were amazed at his family’s freedom in travelling from East to West Germany, as well as owning two automobiles. This led to the conclusion that Horst had a “sympathetic” relationship with the communist rule, being granted such freedom that was typically not available for Christian pastors in East Germany.
Growing up in East Germany meant that Angela was surrounded by a socialist society. At a young age, Angela became a member of the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend), the official communist youth movement in East Germany. In spite of this, she did not participate in the movement’s Jugendweihe, which was the secular coming of youth ceremony that was commonly practiced once someone reaches 14. She was confirmed instead.
Angela was a prodigy since she was young. During her time at the Academy of Sciences, she already exhibited her leadership abilities when she was inducted as a member of the FDJ district board and became the secretary for Agitation and Propaganda (Agitprop) campaign. In some of her interviews, Angela even remembers how she was even the secretary of culture back then. She recalled that when her FDJ district chairman contradicted her, she responded by saying:
"According to my memory, I was secretary for culture. But what do I know? I believe I won't know anything when I'm 80."
Fluent in Russian and Proficient in Mathematics
Angela’s intellect and abilities sometimes led her to clash with senior members of the FDJ who were in part jealous of her speedy growth in the movement. As such, it had a small part in Angela receiving passing grades in her Marxism-Leninism course, which Angela never really took much interest in studying anyway. However, she was able to learn and speak Russian fluently, which earned her awards in Russian and Mathematics for her proficiency.
After completing her primary and secondary education at Templin, Angela attended the University of Leipzig in 1973 to study physics. During her time in the university, she engaged in the reconstruction of the ruins in Moritzbastei, the only remaining ancient town fortifications in the city of Leipzig. This project was initiated by some of the students at the university as a means of establishing their own club as well as a new recreation facility in the campus.
Although the university was initially against the project since it was unprecedented at that time in the socialist republic, they eventually allowed it after some persuasion by the SED party, which backed the project. It was also here where she met a fellow student named Ulrich Merkel; they fell in love and soon after got married in 1977.
Upon her graduation in 1978, Angela enrolled at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof as a working student. Her brilliance in her studies caused her to become among the school’s top students and in 1990 was awarded her doctorate for her thesis on quantum chemistry. She afterwards continued to work as a researcher and went on to publish several papers.
In 1982, Angela and Ulrich divorced after five years of marriage due to personal differences. Although this temporarily affected Angela’s career, it did not stop her from pursuing her goal. In 1981, a year before the breakup, right when her marriage with Ulrich was on the rocks, she met Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist and a professor in the Academy of Sciences. Years later, a romantic relationship blossomed between them and they got married secretly in 1998.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
In 1989, a year before her graduation, Angela witnessed the event that united the two German nations together: the fall of the Berlin wall. With the growing movement of democracy in the country, Angela decided to participate and joined the Democratic Awakening, a new political party that emerged during the union. After the only democratic election of East Germany in 1990, Angela demonstrated her leadership skills and became the deputy spokesperson of the pre-unification government.
Angela’s decision in entering politics wasn’t something that happened all of a sudden. Ever since she was a child, Angela had already experienced life under socialist oppression, which developed in her a desire to help her fellow Germans. This desire was further fuelled by the teachings of her father, who constantly fought for the unification and freedom of Germany through his preaching.
Helmut Kohl’s Madchen
In December 1990, right after the first German federal elections, Angela was elected to the Bundestag as a representative of the constituency Stralsund-Nordvorpommern-Rugen, a coextensive with the Vorpommern-Rugen district. After her party merged with the German Christian Democratic Union, Angela was included in Helmut Kohl’s third cabinet as Minister for Women and Youth.
After performing her duties in the Ministry with excellence, she was named as Minister for Environment and Nuclear Safety in 1994, giving Angela a larger political visibility and a solid ground where she can start building her political career. She became a key figure in Helmut Kohl’s government, becoming one of his protégées and his young cabinet minister, with Kohl often referring to her as “mein Madchen,” which means “my girl.”
With the downfall of the Kohl administration in the 1998 German federal elections, Angela Merkel was named CDU’s Secretary–General. Under her term, the CDU saw a string of victories in six out of the seven state elections in 1999 alone, loosening the SPD-Green coalition’s hold on the Bundesrat, the legislative body representing the German states. However, during the 1999 CDU contributions scandal, in which many of the leading figures of the Christian Democratic Union—including Kohl himself—were compromised, Angela distanced herself from her former mentor and called for a reshuffling of the party’s members as well as a fresh start without Kohl.
Angela Chairs Christian Democratic Union
In 2000, Angela was elected to become the chairperson of the CDU, replacing Schauble. Her election presented a shock to observers, as she was the first female to hold the position and her beliefs, which were Protestant, were in contrast to the Catholic and male-dominated party that she was elected to lead. Aside from this, her upbringing from the Northern portion of Germany made her a liberal thinker, whilst the CDU were mostly from the South and socially conservative.
Angela’s election to the CDU chair opened a greater realm of opportunities. In fact, her position as the chairperson of the CDU made her very popular with the German population that they favoured her to become the challenger of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the 2002 federal elections. Unfortunately though, she did not receive enough support from the CDU and was eventually forced to cede the candidacy to Edmund Stoiber, the leader of the CDU’s sister party the Bavarian Christian Social Union, who managed to outmaneuver Angela during the nominations. However, due to Stoiber squandering a huge lead in the opinion polls, he lost to Schroder by a very tiny margin.
Angela’s defeat from Stoiber soon turned from a disappointment into a blessing. Angela became the conservative opposition’s leader in the Bundestag, following the expulsion of Friedrich Merz as the leader of the parliament, making way for Angela to come in.
During her term as the opposition leader, Angela promoted a substantial reform agenda regarding the economic and social system of Germany. She was considered to be someone who was more pro-market than her own party, advocating changes to the labour law by removing specific barriers to laying employees off and increasing the allowed number of hours of work per week.
She argued that the currently existing laws have made Germany less competitive compared to its neighbouring countries due to the inability of its companies to control labour costs in times when business is slow. Angela also went against phasing out Germany’s nuclear power immediately, something that the incumbent regime was planning to do. Angela also worked to strengthen the ties between Germany and the United States of America by advocating a strong transatlantic partnership between the two nations.
In 2003, Angela strongly supported the United States’ invasion of Iraq, calling the act “unavoidable.” She also criticized the German government for supporting the accession of Turkey to the European Union; instead, she proposed for a privileged partnership, which presented a public opinion that was hostile to Turkish membership in the EU.
In 2005, Angela finally won the nomination of both parties (CDU and CSU) to become Chancellor Schröder’s opponent in the federal elections. The campaign was both bumpy and challenging, with Angela experiencing some setbacks here and there. In a televised debate against the incumbent Schröder, Angela mistakenly confused gross and net income twice, due to her making economic competence the central idea of her platform.
She was able to gain some momentum after announcing that she was going to appoint Paul Kirchhof as the Minister of Finance. However, due to Kirchhof’s proposals regarding the introduction of a flat tax—which the public understood as a deregulation platform designed to enrich the wealthy further—Angela’s popularity again diminished. She was able to recover after distancing herself from Kirchhof, but remained less popular than her opponent.
Angela becomes First Female Chancellor of Germany and President of the European Union
On September 18, the opposing parties went head-to-head in the elections, but neither party could secure majority seats in the Bundestag, with both Angela and Schroder claiming victory. A negotiation followed that lasted for three weeks, placing Angela as the chancellor and giving the opposing party eight out of the 16 seats in the cabinet.
This event marked the formation of a grand coalition between the two parties, which was reported to be pursuing a mixture of policies, thus differing slightly from Angela’s original platform. In her first speech as chancellor, Angela stated that the main aim of her government was to diminish unemployment in the country.
During Angela’s term as Germany’s Chancellor, she enacted numerous policies that strengthened Germany’s economic, social, and foreign affairs status. One of the things that she focused on was to have strong diplomatic relations with foreign countries, especially the United States. In 2007, Angela invited the 14th Dalai Lama to Germany for informal and private talks, in spite of the protests from China. Due to this, Chinese officials cancelled the separate talks with German officials. The same year, she was appointed as the President of the European Union and the chairperson of the G8, the governments of the world’s eight largest economies.
On April 30, Angela signed the Transatlantic Economic Council, which aims to have a further integrated transatlantic free trade area by removing barriers in trade. In spite of several criticisms from various politicians, claiming that the project would cause the European Union to align with American foreign policy and institutions, the project went through and was enacted.
Angela is a firm supporter of Israel, having visited the country several times. On her visit to Israel to commemorate their 60th anniversary, Angela was greeted at the airport by Ehud Olmert, Israel’s Prime Minister, an honour guard, and various political and religious leaders, including a large portion of the Israeli Cabinet. This was momentous for her, as she has been the first woman world leader to whom Israel bestowed the honor of being greeted at the airport.
She also spoke at the Israeli Parliament, the only foreigner who was not head of state to do so. Being the president of the European Council, she strongly opposed the bid for Palestinian membership in the United Nations.
In 2008, during the liquidity crisis that was greatly affecting countries in the European Union, Germany helped the mortgage company Hypo Real Estate with a bailout; an agreement was concluded on October 6th of that year, with German banks contributing 30 billion euros and the Bundesbank contributing 20 billion euros.
When the Irish Government decided to guarantee all the deposits in their private savings accounts, Angela criticized them and stated that the German government had no intentions of doing the same. On the following day, however, she declared that the government would be guaranteeing private savings account deposits. It was found out later that the pledges were simply political statements that were not backed by legislation.
Another country that Angela also focused her attention on was India, to which she signed a Joint Declaration with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006. The Joint Declaration was for the partnership and cooperation between India and Germany in the fields of science, energy, technology, and defense.
Several joint declarations were signed during Angela’s frequent visits to India in the following years, making India the third non-European country that had such nature of comprehensive consultations with Germany and making them the first Asian country to have held a joint cabinet meeting with Germany, which occurred during Angela’s state visit. For her efforts and devotion in creating a sustainable and equitable development for the future, Angela was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding in 2009.
Angela’s Re-Election and Christian Democratic Union Leadership
In 2009, Angela was re-elected as the German chancellor, this time garnering a huge majority of the votes. Her second cabinet was sworn in on October 28. In 2010, she called for a meeting with the younger members of the Christian Democratic Union party and declared that the government’s attempts at establishing a “multicultural” society have utterly failed. She added:
"The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it does not work; we feel attached to the Christian concept of mankind; that is what defines us. Anyone who doesn't accept that is in the wrong place here."
Her statement was due to the increasing number of Muslim immigrants in the country, who defy the Christian faith. In one of her statements during the meeting she said that the immigrants should learn to integrate and adopt the culture and the values of Germany. There have been several debates regarding the number of immigrants and its effect on Germany, particularly the Muslims.
Angela has been in several controversies regarding the issues of Muslim immigration in Germany. During the M100 Media Awards, Angela was seen present when the award was presented to the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew a controversial cartoon of the Islamic prophet Muhammad wearing a turban with a bomb inside.
Incidentally, this occurred during the intense emotional debates regarding the disrespectful statements made by Deutsche Bundesbank executive Thilo Sarrazin about Muslim immigrants. However, Angela made clear statements denouncing the remarks of Thilo Sarrazin, calling them “totally unacceptable.” In September 2010, Angela released a statement through the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine that “Germans will see more mosques,” and a month later, after the President’s speech at the reunification day, Angela stated, “Islam is part of Germany.”
Due to several issues that arose during the middle of her term, Angela has received quite a low percentage of approval, causing her party (CDU) to lose heavily in state elections. In 2011, a poll was conducted that showed a 36% support to Angela’s party compared to the rival coalition parties that garnered a 51% support. However, during the European financial crisis, Angela exhibited her excellence in leadership and governmental skills by enacting several domestic policies that helped prevent the crisis to affect Germany greatly and focusing on health care reform, which bolstered the public support for her.
In 2012, another poll was conducted that showed a 77% support for Angela, reaching an all-time high for her career as the Chancellor. Recently though, it appears that due to several issues that occurred as a result of the financial crisis, her party is starting to lose popularity in the eyes of the German public. In spite of these challenges, Angela pushes on, constantly persisting in her goal to ensure the good of her fellow countrymen.
Throughout her career, Angela has faced a lot of challenges that she always says helped her to be the person she is today. From the major discriminations she encountered during her first few years in service to the European financial crisis, Angela continues to grow; she always states in her interviews that the only way for a country to prosper is to move forward. Today, Angela still keeps on doing her part in making not just Germany, but the European Union, a better place to live.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Free Democratic Party
Awards and Achievements
- 2006: Received the Vision for Europe Award
- 2006: Awarded the Dama di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana
- 2006: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2007: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2008: Won the Charlemagne Prize for distinguished services to European unity
- 2008: Awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
- 2008: Received the B’nai B’rith Europe Award of Merit
- 2008: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2009: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2010: Included in New Statesman's The World’s 50 Most Influential Figures
- 2010: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2010: Received the Global Leadership Award from the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies
- 2010: Awarded the Leo Baeck Medal
- 2011: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2011: Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama
- 2011: Received the Jawaharlal Nehru Award
- 2012: Received the Heinz Galinski Award
- 2013: Included in Forbes Magazine’s The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women
- 2007: Honorary Doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate from Leipzig University
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate from the University of Technology in Wroclaw
- 2008: Honorary Doctorate from Babes-Bolyai University