Friday, November 2, 2012

Role Model in Germany

The economic crisis that arose in Europe in 2009 (known as the Eurocrisis) left many countries of the European Union (EU) in difficult financial situations with very little ability to help themselves. Causes varied from country to country, some of which include real-estate bubbles which popped, leaving private debt which many countries assumed, international trade imbalances, bailouts given to troubled banking industries, and the impact of a global recession. Some countries were hit harder than others. One of the countries that seems to have avoided much of the crisis in Germany, which stands at the head of the EU giving hope for what the Union’s future might be. This “honest, thrifty, industrious”1 country is governed by a representative democracy, which the Chancellor as the head of government. The current Chancellor of Germany, and the head of government throughout this major economic crisis, is a woman by the name of Angela Merkel.  This woman has led her country, which has been an example to neighboring nations and an aid to those in need of the greatest help, with such authority and aptitude that she has “become the most powerful German woman since Catherine the Great ruled Russia”2. Her intelligence, drive, and firsthand experience and witness of the impacts of political actions in citizens’ lives has helped her become the capable leader she is today.

 As a young child Ms. Merkel experienced the building of the Berlin Wall and witnessed the sorrow it brought to the people in her father, the pastor’s, church. She also visited Czechoslovakia during its revolution in 1968 and also experienced the fear of learning that the Russian troops had put a stop to it. Being one to often speak up in class about such situations, she had to learn to speak and when to hold still based on the visible reactions of those around her. Ms. Merkel said herself, “Yes, it is a great advantage from the time in East Germany, that one learned to keep quiet. That was one of the strategies for survival. As it is today.”

Her experience in East Germany, a place known for its lack of drive to excel beyond mediocrity, did not deter her own diligence in obtaining an education and graduating in physics from Leipzig University, later earning a doctorate. The personal dedication to rise above mediocrity is seen in the way she conducts Parliament meetings. During a debate over the pros and cons of euro bonds (a system that allows investors to loan money with time restrictions and a defined interest rate to the Eurozone bloc which then sends that money specific governments3) Ms. Merkel said that these bonds “would turn mediocrity into Europe’s yardstick. We would be abandoning our ambition of retaining our prosperity in worldwide competition.”4

Her education as a scientist is also seen as an influence in the way she addresses problems or losses of arguments that are natural and common in the political sphere. Most see losses of arguments as just that, a loss or a failure. Ms. Merkel, as a scientist, instead sees a loss as knowledge of what will not work. (Sounds quite a bit like another famous scientist we know who discovered a thousand ways a light bulb did not work.) Wolfgang Nowak, a former senior adviser to Gerhard Schroder, Ms. Merkel’s Social Democratic predecessor remarked that Ms. Merkel has “now barriers on her thinking.”

Along with this characteristic, the Chancellor is known for thinking through her words, their impact and meaning, and her desire and ability to say what it is she wants to say in a direct way, a quality often found lacking in the politicians who rush to say whatever it is they think the voters want to hear. This might stem from her experience with questions from pupils during her time teaching. Either way, such deliberation during conversation suggests that as a leader, Ms. Merkel leads a more democratic deliberation process, allowing comments and negotiations to be made. Such leadership is often credited as more common among women leaders5 and sometimes invokes feelings of inadequacy or weakness in leadership. Seeing Ms. Merkel’s success in reasoning with members of her country’s Parliament as well as country leaders in the EU perhaps brings a new perspective to the effectiveness of democratic conversation.

Chancellor Merkel has been successful in her leadership within her own country and the continental representation within the European Union. She has taken her childhood experiences and added the knowledge and habits necessary to be in politics to her already strong, capable personality. She has shown that a more democratic style of conversation and negotiation, which style is often seen as feminine, weak or incapable, can bring forth the best ideas and solutions and has shown this while maintaining a strong leadership position demanding respect.

As attention continues to turn to the participation of women in politics (or the lack thereof) studies have shown that the “role model effect” has significant influence on girls, young women, and mature women. This effect says that as women become more involved in politics, other women become more motivated to participate as well. The studies show, however, that rather than mere numbers, it is the visible and viable offices that have the greatest influence.6 Chancellor Merkel is a prime example of a woman who occupies both a viable and visible office in politics and has used her experience and capabilities to lead her country and others during very difficult and tumultuous  economic times.


Lyn Kathlene
The American Political Science Review 
Vol. 88, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 560-576
Published by: American Political Science Association

6. David E. Campbell and Christina Wolbrecht (2006). See Jane Run: Women Politicians as Role Models for Adolescents. The Journal of Politics, 68, pp 233-247 doi:10.1111/j.1468-2508.2006.00402.x

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