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Germany 3 months before the election: Merkel's coalition in good shape

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For a long time during this term, ever since early 2010, there was no majority for Merkel's center-right/libertarian coalition of Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and Free Democrats (FDP) in polls ... but lately, even this option seems possible again. But much can happen until September.

angela-merkel.jpg
Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has good prospects of being reelected for a third term

Merkel's CDU/CSU has now presented their election platform, boldly titled "government program", promising all kind of gifts for various constituencies -- but all of them "only if the budget allows it". So basically a list of rather empty promises. Most likely, we can expect Merkel to go on as before, if her coalition is reelected.

steinbrueck_gabriel_fitwidth_420.jpg
Opposition center-left SPD chairman Sigmar Gabriel and SPD candidate for Chancellor Peer Steinbrück

The opposition SPD's campaign has been rather rocky and unsuccessful so far. Steinbrück had a few lapses, made a few statements that are really bad from a PR point of view, and has notoriously low approval rates in polls, compared to Merkel. A few weeks ago, he even got in a public disagreement with his SPD chairman, which evoked the impression the SPD does not fully support their candidate for Chancellor.

The SPD already declared they want to win a majority together with the Greens, and put emphasis on social issues: They promised the introduction of a minimum wage, more money for families, higher taxes for the best earners to improve the budget. So far, the SPD has not yet openly attacked Merkel's policies in the euro crisis, but observers suggest they might do that shortly before the election, to improve the chances of the small anti-euro AfD party, which would hurt Merkel's prospects. The Green Party has sharpened their profile with a decidedly "left" platform too: More regulation of banks and higher taxes for the rich.


One thing is rather certain: Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU will most likely become strongest party again, ca. 15% of the votes ahead of the opposition center-left Social Democrats (SPD). Here the current poll results:

Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU; center-right): 38% - 43%
Opposition Social Democrats (SPD; center-left): 22% - 26%
Opposition Green Party (progressive-environmentalist): 13% - 15%
Opposition Left Party (socialist far-left): 6% - 8%
Merkel's junior partner Free Democrats (FDP; libertarian): 4% - 6%

Potential new parties with a small chance of entering the parliament for the first time:

Alternative for Germany (AfD; anti-euro currency): 2% - 3%
Pirate Party (pro-internet freedom and transparency): 2% - 3%

Sonntagsfrage – Umfragen zur Bundestagswahl (Wahlumfrage, Wahlumfragen)


But due to Germany's proportional representation system, it's not necessarily the strongest party that will lead the new government: The governing coalition just needs more seats in the parliament than all other parties combined. So even a smaller party may get the government, if it manages to find enough strong coalition partners. On top of that, not all parties enter the parliament, but only parties which win at least 5% of the votes.

One thing is sure: If either CDU/CSU and FDP on one side win a majority of seats, they'll continue in their center-right/libertarian coalition. And if SPD and Greens win a majority, they'll form a center-left coalition. But what if neither case happens, which is very likely?

That makes a prediction of the outcome complicated.

The more parties enter the parliament besides the FDP, the less likely it is that either side will have a majority of seats. Potential contenders are the anti-euro currency AfD and the Pirate Party (in favor of internet-freedom and transparency), that managed to enter four state parliaments in the past years.

If we go by the polls, only Forsa Institute sees a narow majority for CDU/CSU-FDP (46%) compared to the other parties above 5% (45%). But Forsa is notoriously anti-SPD and often criticized by experts. The poll institutes with the best reputation, Forschungsgruppe Wahlen and Infratest Dimap, see a stalemate and the FDP below 5%.


The most likely outcome in case of a stalemate would be another centrist "grand coalition" of Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU and the center-left SPD. Merkel has some experience with such a coalition, as she governed with the SPD in her first term 2005-2009, and quite successfully so.

But the SPD will be very reluctant this time to join the CDU/CSU as junior partner: When they did that the last time, it almost destroyed the party. Chancellor Merkel took all the fame, and the SPD all the blame for their mutual work. Consequently, the SPD lost more than 11% in the subsequent elections and fell to the worst result since 1932. A nightmare for the party, which is why the SPD is now considering to rule out a coalition with the CDU/CSU in public.

But what are there other options?

Now of course, the SPD may do the stunt of cooperating with the socialist Left Party for the first time. So far, the SPD has ruled out to do that on national level, both because they consider them too extreme in their leftist views (i.e. the Left Party demands withdrawing all German troops from abroad, even leaving NATO), and a very risky, unreliable party (many of the Left Party members, especially in West Germany, are rather uncompromising nuts, basically a "Tea Party on the left") -- and not least because many Germans, especially in the West, would consider it a betrayal if the SPD cooperated with the reformed successor of the former East German communist state party responsible for Berlin Wall and dictatorship.

On the plus side, a coalition of SPD with both Greens and Left Party might, if successful, help bridging the gap between East and West Germany (the Left Party wins up to 30% of the votes in the east), and such SPD/Left Party coalitions have been successful on state level already (in Berlin, Mecklenburg-West Pomerania and Brandenburg).

What if the libertarian FDP enters the parliament after all? Of course the FDP's first choice would be becoming Merkel's junior partners again, but what if that's not possible? Might the SPD try to form a center-left/libertarian coalition with Greens and FDP? That's very unlikely too, since the FDP's libertarian platform is very much at odds with the economic propositions of the two other parties. But who knows? Maybe the SPD would be willing to sacrifice a lot, if they get the Chancellorship in return. Or the FDP, for remaining in the government.

But all bets are off, if a new partner enters the parliament. Certainly, neither side would want to cooperate with the anti-euro AfD, and even a cooperation with the Pirates would be difficult, due to the volatility of these political amateurs. But maybe the SPD would attempt to get the Pirates on board after all. We'll see.
 
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I'm so disappointed by that. Is Merkel really the best Germany has to offer? Are we just going to keep her in office for the next few decades?
 

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I'm so disappointed by that. Is Merkel really the best Germany has to offer? Are we just going to keep her in office for the next few decades?

Yes, I think no Chancellor should govern too long ... we should introduce a two-term limit as in the US, or at least a 10 year limit. Chancellor Kohl was totally disconnected in the end, after 16 years and four terms (!) as Chancellor, even running for a fifth.

By the way, do you have a favorite you'd like to see as Chancellor?

I like the idea of a "grand coalition", and think it was not bad 2005-09, but it's unfair the SPD gets all the blame. After all, that party has proven it will place the country before the party, even when that means losing power, like when Chancellor Schmidt (1974-82) pushed for the US nukes and when Chancellor Schröder (1998-2005) took the suicidal decision to reform the labor market and bloated welfare state in his second term, ending Germany's status as "sick man of Europe".
 

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Yes, I think no Chancellor should govern too long ... we should introduce a two-term limit as in the US, or at least a 10 year limit. Chancellor Kohl was totally disconnected in the end, after 16 years and four terms (!) as Chancellor, even running for a fifth.

By the way, do you have a favorite you'd like to see as Chancellor?

I like the idea of a "grand coalition", and think it was not bad 2005-09, but it's unfair the SPD gets all the blame. After all, that party has proven it will place the country before the party, even when that means losing power, like when Chancellor Schmidt (1974-82) pushed for the US nukes and when Chancellor Schröder (1998-2005) took the suicidal decision to reform the labor market and bloated welfare state in his second term, ending Germany's status as "sick man of Europe".

I don't know, I'm kind of disappointed with German politics in general. You have the FDP that actually stands a chance at getting low end politicians here and there, but they're not real libertarians.
 

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I don't know, I'm kind of disappointed with German politics in general. You have the FDP that actually stands a chance at getting low end politicians here and there, but they're not real libertarians.

Yes, the FDP is probably not "libertarian" by American standards, but I translated their German label "liberal" accordingly to avoid confusion. They're probably the closest thing to libertarians we have here.

Years ago, I was active in the youth organization of the Green Party. I noticed I found myself at the right end of that party, ideologically. I couldn't stand the left-wing ideologues there, but usually joined the pragmatists. When our group had a meeting with some FDP youth people, I found a lot of agreement with those on the left side of their party. I'm rather fond of FDP minister of justice, Sabine Leutheuser-Schnarrenberger. Just not so fond of big business-lobby work.

Too bad there is no chance for a Green/FDP coalition. ;)
 

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You have the FDP that actually stands a chance at getting low end politicians here and there, but they're not real libertarians.

At least they have some Libertarian leanings in the UK its something like this: Labour - Increase state in all sections Conservatives - Keep Government intervention the same in the economy but infringe in peoples lives slightly more than they say they will. Lib Dems - Progressives (US)
No Major Libertarian parties and no major libertarian politicians.
At least the Germans have a dedicated party for near libertarianism, I admire them for that :)
 

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At least they have some Libertarian leanings in the UK its something like this: Labour - Increase state in all sections Conservatives - Keep Government intervention the same in the economy but infringe in peoples lives slightly more than they say they will. Lib Dems - Progressives (US)
No Major Libertarian parties and no major libertarian politicians.
At least the Germans have a dedicated party for near libertarianism, I admire them for that :)

I have to say, I am disappointed by the FDP. They scored their best result ever in the 2009 election, with 14.6% of the votes -- but the moment they were in the government, they really screwed up. Their platform had consisted only of three points: Tax cuts, tax cuts and tax cuts. But once in the government, they get almost nothing of that through. Instead, they would be happy enough with nice minister offices and a few token tax cuts, but exclusively for their best donators, such as the hotel lobby.

That sucked. I don't consider myself a libertarian, but I see the benefit of tax cuts for the economy. What I'm not at all fond of are tax gifts for particular lobby groups. That's cronyism, not sound economic policy. In the worst case, it's even government handouts for the rich.

Then, it was a mistake to make their long-time chairman Guido Westerwelle Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was an effective, offensive opposition politician, never shy of passionate attacks, before 2009... so his sometimes shrill style was very unsuited for that office, that requires diplomatic understatement. So he became the probably weakest Foreign Minister in decades. He should have rather taken the office of Economy Minister.

So when the poll numbers plummeted for the FDP, the party began in-fights and quarrels that almost destroyed the party. It took them only 3 years in the government to turn their best victory ever into an existential crisis ... down to 4% to 5%, with the very existence of the party at stake.

But I'm confident they'll make 5% and re-enter the parliament after all.
 

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I have to say, I am disappointed by the FDP. They scored their best result ever in the 2009 election, with 14.6% of the votes -- but the moment they were in the government, they really screwed up. Their platform had consisted only of three points: Tax cuts, tax cuts and tax cuts. But once in the government, they get almost nothing of that through. Instead, they would be happy enough with nice minister offices and a few token tax cuts, but exclusively for their best donators, such as the hotel lobby.

That sucked. I don't consider myself a libertarian, but I see the benefit of tax cuts for the economy. What I'm not at all fond of are tax gifts for particular lobby groups. That's cronyism, not sound economic policy. In the worst case, it's even government handouts for the rich.

Then, it was a mistake to make their long-time chairman Guido Westerwelle Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was an effective, offensive opposition politician, never shy of passionate attacks, before 2009... so his sometimes shrill style was very unsuited for that office, that requires diplomatic understatement. So he became the probably weakest Foreign Minister in decades. He should have rather taken the office of Economy Minister.

So when the poll numbers plummeted for the FDP, the party began in-fights and quarrels that almost destroyed the party. It took them only 3 years in the government to turn their best victory ever into an existential crisis ... down to 4% to 5%, with the very existence of the party at stake.

But I'm confident they'll make 5% and re-enter the parliament after all.

What I mostly remember the FDP for is a disgusting PR campaign to vilify people who live on benefit (they spoke of "late Roman decadence") and a policy which was only ever meant to benefit the few rich people who would vote for them. The tax cut for hotels was one of many examples for that and one of the most grotesque ones. Then, as Westerwelle disappeared into the foreign office (where he is probably kept in a cage so he doesn't do any harm), the FDP fell into a huge vacuum. Out of this vacuum came a party which was the laughing stock of the nation. It was in such a pathetic shape that all of its leading politicians (especially Kubicki but also Brüderle and Lindner) kept their distance to the party to make themselves popular. Except for poor Rösler who couldn't because he was the leader of the party. He was probably the most pitied German politician at least since reunification.

Those are side issues though, if we look beyond the huge amount of comedy that the FDP has offered, we see that the party really is, more than anything else, a party against social security and against workers' rights.

If that is what you call "libertarian", then the FDP is libertarian. I just think it may be an insult for some people who identify as "libertarian", especially if they are left-wing libertarians or just people who are mainly concerned with civil liberties and not with increasing the number of the working poor for the benefit of the shareholders.
 
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I think the SPD still has a chance to win the election against Merkel.
Although Merkel is a respected politician in Europe and the world, I would like to see a new face leading Germany.
Steinbrück is competent and authentic. He is not afraid of hurting people with words he is persuaded of. This is probably the biggest difference to mother-Merkel who is best in not harming the electorate with uncomfortable words.
 

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I think the SPD still has a chance to win the election against Merkel.
Although Merkel is a respected politician in Europe and the world, I would like to see a new face leading Germany.
Steinbrück is competent and authentic. He is not afraid of hurting people with words he is persuaded of. This is probably the biggest difference to mother-Merkel who is best in not harming the electorate with uncomfortable words.

Hi! Great avatar! I love Hannah Arendt.

Who is kirsten, btw? Your ex-girlfriend? ;)
 

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I forgot to mention another potential coalition in case of a stalemate between CDU/CSU-FDP on one side and SPD-Greens on the other:

If the center-left SPD refuses to join Merkel's center-right CDU/CSU as junior partner, and the SPD can neither win the FDP nor the Left Party over, the only remaining option would be the first coalition of center-right CDU/CSU and progressive-environmentalist Green Party.

But that would be risky for both partners, as there are severe prejudices among the supporters of these parties of the respective other side: Conservative "bourgeois" people against the heirs of leftist student protests, anti-authoritarianism and "alternative" way of life. The two parties started two such coalitions on state level in the past years (Hamburg and Saarland), but both of them broke apart before the term was over. In the subsequent elections, both CDU and Greens were punished by the voters, who obviously don't like such a CDU-Green coalition.

Regardless of these cultural differences between the parties, there would be sufficient ideological agreement, since Merkel has moved the once conservative Christian Dems into the center: Especially when Merkel decided in favor of a nuclear power phase-out after the Fukushima disaster and in favor of an "energy change plan" according to which regenerative energy sources should get priority. And the pragmatist camp within the Green Party has more economy-friendly ideas than many labor traditionalists in the SPD. So this coalition could probably get more common ideas through than the animosity between both supporter camps suggests.

So in case of such a CDU/CSU-Green coalition, Merkel could remain Chancellor for a third term. She'd be the first Chancellor to govern with three different coalition partners over three terms.
 

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Hey German Guy. I want to ask you something.

How have the recent discussions about the following topics have affected Merkel's profile or her chances, if at all:
-PRISM and the espionage of German citizens by the USA, apparently with the consensus of the German govt
-The failure to continue with the drone program that was cancelled a few months ago.

So did the ruling coalition suffer? Is the public discourse involved in these topics?
 

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Hey German Guy. I want to ask you something.

How have the recent discussions about the following topics have affected Merkel's profile or her chances, if at all:
-PRISM and the espionage of German citizens by the USA, apparently with the consensus of the German govt
-The failure to continue with the drone program that was cancelled a few months ago.

So did the ruling coalition suffer? Is the public discourse involved in these topics?

Yes, it was a major topic in the discourse... even mainstream outlets like Spiegel Online made it a topic.

But it didn't have a negative impact on the governing coalition so far. The oppoisition used every opportunity it could get, but almost everybody knew it was disingenious, because it all started already when now opposition SPD and Greens were in the government. And accordingly, they remained more or less tame in their criticism.

Even the Pirate Party did not profite. It seems like their best moments are over. Even when there is a perfect topic for them, they can't capitalize on it, because most people remember they're chaotic and not really viable ever since they're in state parliaments.
 

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Yes, it was a major topic in the discourse... even mainstream outlets like Spiegel Online made it a topic.

But it didn't have a negative impact on the governing coalition so far. The oppoisition used every opportunity it could get, but almost everybody knew it was disingenious, because it all started already when now opposition SPD and Greens were in the government. And accordingly, they remained more or less tame in their criticism.

Even the Pirate Party did not profite. It seems like their best moments are over. Even when there is a perfect topic for them, they can't capitalize on it, because most people remember they're chaotic and not really viable ever since they're in state parliaments.

Wow. I am impressed because the people didn't fall for political rhetoric that easily and I am also concerned because people didn't fall for political rhetoric that easily.
 

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I'm not a huge fan of Angela Merkel, but she has done a competent job and she is one of the few European "leaders" worthy of that name. Clearly her (hopefully strengthened) return to power would be best for Germany and Europe in the given circumstances.
Fundamentally, however, I find it problematic that there is so little alternative because the number of credible political leaders is so small. I am by no means a socialist, but it is not good for democracy that the SPD has such abysmal leadership. And the same is true for the liberal FDP.
 

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I'm not a huge fan of Angela Merkel, but she has done a competent job and she is one of the few European "leaders" worthy of that name. Clearly her (hopefully strengthened) return to power would be best for Germany and Europe in the given circumstances.
Fundamentally, however, I find it problematic that there is so little alternative because the number of credible political leaders is so small. I am by no means a socialist, but it is not good for democracy that the SPD has such abysmal leadership. And the same is true for the liberal FDP.

IMO, the main problem of the SPD is not that its leadership is so bad, or that their candidate for Chancellor is such a bad alternative -- but that they constantly make mistakes that are bad from a PR point of view. When I look at it, I think Steinbrück is a very fine candidate, he has proven as Finance Minister 2005-2009 that he's very competent, can easily handle crisis (at least as good, if not better than Merkel), and his only problem is that he's a blabbermouth who doesn't know when to shut up in front of cameras. On top of that, he apparently doesn't know how to handle the press, so they keep writing him down all the time.

The SPD in general has been the most responsible and serious party in the past decade or so, IMO. SPD Chancellor Schröder ran on a reform platform in 2002, won, and then made all the very urgent reforms and streamlining of the labor market that ended Germany's position as "the sick man of Europe", although that costed him the next election and almost destroyed his party -- he strictly placed the country above party or power. You don't see that often in politics. Then, 2005-09, the SPD was Merkel's junior partner, and especially the decisive crisis handling of Steinbrück made Germany emerge from the crisis with just a few scratches -- but Merkel got all the fame.

The SPD's top politicians, like Steinbrück, chairman Gabriel and floor leader Steinmeier are all heirs of Schröder's responsible and decisive politics. I have a lot of trust in them. They're fine politicians, but horrible PR managers, IMO.
 

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Wow. I am impressed because the people didn't fall for political rhetoric that easily and I am also concerned because people didn't fall for political rhetoric that easily.

That's how I feel about it as well, though what concernes me most is that the CDU government might not even be voted out after Merkel and Friedrich badly let down the German people on our civil rights. They simply have no intention whatsoever to defend the civil rights of their country's population, they welcome the extension of the American surveillance state to Germany and they really show it. Merkel's and Friedrich's fig leaf attempts to achieve "clarification" from the US on that issue have simply been an insultingly obvious maneuvre of internal politics. With the SPD and Greens, there is at least a minimal chance that despite their undeniable populism and hypocrisy, they might still join with other European countries to put pressure on the United States to sign an acceptable agreement on data privacy. In dealing with the NSA issue, you simply can't do any worse than Merkel.

Also, it has to be pointed out that the SPD-Green government with Schröder has largely pursued a foreign policy independent of the US. There are degrees of submissiveness to America, and Merkel clearly gets the gold medal (or "freedom medal" as it is cynically called).

What I want to see is Europe and the US forming a strong partnership at eye level where we solve Global problems together and noone spies on their partners without their consent. Merkel will not take us there.
 

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Conspiracy theory

Not that I'm generally a fan of conspiracy theories but has it occurred to any of you that there might be a connection between the NSA affair and the blowing up of few vehicles parking on the compound of German army barracks in Havelberg?
 

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IMO, the main problem of the SPD is not that its leadership is so bad, or that their candidate for Chancellor is such a bad alternative -- but that they constantly make mistakes that are bad from a PR point of view. When I look at it, I think Steinbrück is a very fine candidate, he has proven as Finance Minister 2005-2009 that he's very competent, can easily handle crisis (at least as good, if not better than Merkel), and his only problem is that he's a blabbermouth who doesn't know when to shut up in front of cameras. On top of that, he apparently doesn't know how to handle the press, so they keep writing him down all the time.

The SPD in general has been the most responsible and serious party in the past decade or so, IMO. SPD Chancellor Schröder ran on a reform platform in 2002, won, and then made all the very urgent reforms and streamlining of the labor market that ended Germany's position as "the sick man of Europe", although that costed him the next election and almost destroyed his party -- he strictly placed the country above party or power. You don't see that often in politics. Then, 2005-09, the SPD was Merkel's junior partner, and especially the decisive crisis handling of Steinbrück made Germany emerge from the crisis with just a few scratches -- but Merkel got all the fame.

The SPD's top politicians, like Steinbrück, chairman Gabriel and floor leader Steinmeier are all heirs of Schröder's responsible and decisive politics. I have a lot of trust in them. They're fine politicians, but horrible PR managers, IMO.

I take your point, but I believe it proves exactly what I was trying to say. I'm not claiming the Steinbruck and other SPD-leaders aren't comptent or intelligent. But they aren't real leaders (Schröder was). Therefore they inspire no confidence.
 

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I take your point, but I believe it proves exactly what I was trying to say. I'm not claiming the Steinbruck and other SPD-leaders aren't comptent or intelligent. But they aren't real leaders (Schröder was). Therefore they inspire no confidence.

Point taken!
 

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I take your point, but I believe it proves exactly what I was trying to say. I'm not claiming the Steinbruck and other SPD-leaders aren't comptent or intelligent. But they aren't real leaders (Schröder was). Therefore they inspire no confidence.

Good point. Then again, I think few German chancellors were perceived as leaders before they came to power. Similar to German Guy, I think Steinbrück could be a good chancellor if he could keep his mouth shut whenever an arrogant comment is about to come out. I think he's still less embarrassing than Sarkozy or Berlusconi.
 

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Good point. Then again, I think few German chancellors were perceived as leaders before they came to power. Similar to German Guy, I think Steinbrück could be a good chancellor if he could keep his mouth shut whenever an arrogant comment is about to come out. I think he's still less embarrassing than Sarkozy or Berlusconi.

Yes... thinking about it for a moment... I think Helmut Schmidt (1974-82; SPD) was the last Chancellor of the Federal Republic who had a "leader" image even before he got the office. Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; CDU) was a laughingstock at first, someone many people underestimated and thought was way too provincial to be a good leader, and he was a laughingstock in his first few years. But at least since his management of the Reunification, few still had doubts about his leadership skills. And Schröder (1998-2005; SPD)? Came across more as a macho than a decisive leader at first.

The most initially underestimated Chancellor is probably Merkel, though. With her silly hairdo and timid public appearance and speech skills, hardly anybody expected her to become a gifted power game player she certainly is.
 

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Yes... thinking about it for a moment... I think Helmut Schmidt (1974-82; SPD) was the last Chancellor of the Federal Republic who had a "leader" image even before he got the office. Helmut Kohl (1982-1998; CDU) was a laughingstock at first, someone many people underestimated and thought was way too provincial to be a good leader, and he was a laughingstock in his first few years. But at least since his management of the Reunification, few still had doubts about his leadership skills. And Schröder (1998-2005; SPD)? Came across more as a macho than a decisive leader at first.

The most initially underestimated Chancellor is probably Merkel, though. With her silly hairdo and timid public appearance and speech skills, hardly anybody expected her to become a gifted power game player she certainly is.

I have a healthy respect for Merkel, but can somebody in Germany please give her some dress advice?
 
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