First female chancellor plays it cool

Financial Times

It was Angela Merkel's biggest day in her political career, and a milestone moment for Germany, but telling the world how she felt was almost too much for the future chancellor.

Only when journalists virtually pleaded with her to say how she felt leading her country and becoming the first female chancellor in German history did she offer a glimpse into her soul. “Es geht mir gut [I'm doing well],” she said with her famously girlish smile.  For Ms Merkel, those four words were sufficient. In her next sentence she returned to the dry business of coalition talks and policy priorities. It was perhaps naïve for journalists and Germans to expect more.

On the night of September 18, after her party had narrowly beaten Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats in general elections, Ms Merkel could barely break into a smile, while her rival pranced and swaggered on stage as if he were the victor. Sombre, analytical and unflappable are words often used to describe her, and all rang true yesterday as she announced coolly that her three-week duel with Mr Schröder over who should get Germany's top job had been resolved in her favour. “We have decided that I'll be chancellor,” she said calmly.

Yet if Germans are unlikely to be swept off their feet by their next leader a pastor's daughter with a doctorate in quantum chemistry they can be reassured that she knows exactly what she is doing.  Friends and enemies alike praise her analytical mind (she celebrated her 50th birthday last year by hosting a seminar on the workings of the brain) and no-frills, clear-minded style.

A question at Monday’s press conference on when she would announce her cabinet provoked a typical Merkel answer: “I'll do so when I've finished thinking about it,” she said.  Will she loosen up once she is in power? All she would admit to yesterday was to be “looking forward” to the challenge of running the country. “It will be fun to define the political agenda for a change,” she added, without a smile.