ROEVERSHAGEN, GERMANY (REUTERS) – With German elections looming, polls indicate that Europe’s longest-serving female Chancellor Angela Merkel is likely to emerge triumphant for a fourth term.
Born in Hamburg in 1954, Angela Merkel moved with her family to East Germany as a baby when her father was offered a job as a pastor there. She grew up in Templin, a small town north of Berlin.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the shy Protestant pastor’s daughter from the Communist East morphed from physicist to politician, joining the first government of a reunified Germany under then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
A decade later, the loyal minister known as “Kohl’s girl” turned on her mentor, flashing the ruthless streak and finely-tuned sense of timing that would vault her to the top of Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Merkel’s first outing as Chancellor came when she squeezed into office in 2005 after running on a platform of tax cuts and deregulation, and was forced to form a “grand coalition” with her SPD rivals. That partnership turned out far more harmonious than many expected.
She surprised many by ditching the free-market principles she had trumpeted before the vote and pulling her party sharply to the left. She ended military conscription, pushed a minimum wage and, following the Fukushima disaster in Japan, dropped her long-standing support for nuclear power.
By contrast, the centre-right coalition she formed in 2009 with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), her more natural partner, proved troublesome, And in 2013 the CDU was back with the SPD.
With more years in power than most of her fellow global leaders and fluent in English and Russian, Merkel is perhaps Germany’s first “global” leader, voted most powerful woman in the world four times in a row by Time magazine.
As a former environment minister she has fought — not always with success — to push climate change up the international agenda.
On a personal level, bilateral relations were initially markedly cooler with U.S. President Barack Obama than with George W. Bush but over Obama’s two terms and Merkel’s three developed into a firm alliance.
Unusually in German politics, Merkel lacks her own regional power base, having parachuted into the CDU during reunification and been promoted by Kohl. She remains something of an outsider: a divorced, childless female physicist from the former East Germany in a western party whose core supporters still tend to be Catholic, male and reluctant to altogether drop their resistance to immigration and an attachment to the traditional family view.
Convinced that hard work and modesty are traditional values that the public appreciates, the East German Protestant jealously guards her private life. Second husband Joachim Sauer, a respected chemistry professor, appears with her in public so rarely that one magazine called him a “phantom”.
While Merkel occasionally allows glimpses of the person behind the politician — she can be ready with a laugh and a joke, her public image is almost designed to embody Kohl’s idea that it’s the long run that matters. She’s unlikely to respond to poor polls with acts of populism.
With two weeks to go Merkel has found herself working the crowd, still hoping to woo fence voters away from the hard-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).