Angela Dorothea Merkel born 17 July 1954 is a German politician serving as Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000. Merkel has been widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union, the most powerful woman in the world, and the leader of the Free World.
Merkel was born in Hamburg in then-West Germany and moved to East Germany as an infant when her father, a Lutheran clergyman, received a pastorate in Perleberg. She obtained a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986 and worked as a research scientist until 1989. Merkel entered politics in the wake of the Revolutions of 1989, and briefly served as a deputy spokesperson for the first democratically elected East German Government headed by Lothar de Maizière in 1990. Following German reunification in 1990, Merkel was elected to the Bundestag for the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and has been reelected ever since. As the protégée of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Merkel was appointed as the Federal Minister for Women and Youth in Kohl’s government in 1991, and became the Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety in 1994. After her party lost the federal election in 1998, Merkel was elected Secretary-General of the CDU before becoming the party’s first female leader two years later in the aftermath of a donations scandal that toppled Wolfgang Schäuble.
Following the 2005 federal election, Merkel was appointed Germany’s first female chancellor at the head of a grand coalition consisting of the CDU, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In the 2009 federal election, the CDU obtained the largest share of the vote and Merkel was able to form a coalition government with the Free Democratic Party (FDP). At the 2013 federal election, Merkel’s CDU won a landslide victory with 41.5% of the vote and formed a second grand coalition with the SPD, after the FDP lost all of its representation in the Bundestag. In the 2017 federal election the CDU again became the largest party, and she was reelected to her fourth term on 14 March 2018.
In 2007, Merkel was President of the European Council and played a central role in the negotiation of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. One of Merkel’s consistent priorities has been to strengthen transatlantic economic relations. Merkel played a crucial role in managing the financial crisis at the European and international level, and she has been referred to as “the decider.” In domestic policy, health care reform, problems concerning future energy development and more recently her government’s approach to the ongoing migrant crisis have been major issues during her Chancellorship. On 26 March 2014, Merkel became the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union and she is currently the senior G7 leader.
Merkel was born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954, in Hamburg, West Germany, the daughter of Horst Kasner (1926–2011; né Kaźmierczak), a Lutheran pastor and a native of Berlin, and his wife Herlind (née Jentzsch), born in 1928 in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland), a teacher of English and Latin. She has two younger siblings, Marcus Kasner, a physicist, and Irene Kasner, an occupational therapist. In her childhood and youth, Merkel was known among her peers by the nickname “Kasi”, derived from her last name Kasner.
Merkel is of German and Polish descent. Her paternal grandfather, Ludwik Kaźmierczak, was a German policeman of Polish ethnicity, who had taken part in Poland’s struggle for independence in the early 20th century. He married Merkel’s grandmother Margarethe, a German from Berlin, and relocated to her hometown where he worked in the police. In 1930, they Germanized the Polish name Kaźmierczak to Kasner. Merkel’s maternal grandparents were the Danzig politician Willi Jentzsch, and Gertrud Alma née Drange, a daughter of the city clerk of Elbing (now Elbląg, Poland) Emil Drange. Since the mid 1990s Merkel has publicly mentioned her Polish heritage on several occasions and described herself as a quarter Polish, but her Polish roots became better known as a result of a 2013 biography.
Religion played a key role in the Kasner family’s migration from West Germany to East Germany. Merkel’s paternal grandfather was originally Catholic but the entire family converted to Lutheranism during the childhood of her father,who later studied Lutheran theology in Heidelberg and Hamburg. In 1954, when Angela was just three months old, her father received a pastorate at the church in Quitzow (a quarter of Perleberg in Brandenburg), which was then in East Germany. The family moved to Templin and Merkel grew up in the countryside 90 km (56 mi) north of East Berlin.
In 1968, Merkel joined the Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth movement sponsored by the ruling Marxist–Leninist Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Membership was nominally voluntary, but those who did not join found it difficult to gain admission to higher education. She did not participate in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, however, which was common in East Germany. Instead, she was confirmed. During this time, she participated in several compulsory courses on Marxism-Leninism with her grades only being regarded as “sufficient”.
On 22 November 2005, Merkel assumed the office of Chancellor of Germany following a stalemate election that resulted in a grand coalition with the SPD. The coalition deal was approved by both parties at party conferences on 14 November 2005. Merkel was elected Chancellor by the majority of delegates (397 to 217) in the newly assembled Bundestag on 22 November 2005, but 51 members of the governing coalition voted against her.
Reports at the time indicated that the grand coalition would pursue a mix of policies, some of which differed from Merkel’s political platform as leader of the opposition and candidate for Chancellor. The coalition’s intent was to cut public spending whilst increasing VAT (from 16 to 19%), social insurance contributions and the top rate of income tax.
When announcing the coalition agreement, Merkel stated that the main aim of her government would be to reduce unemployment, and that it was this issue on which her government would be judged.
Her party was re-elected in 2009 with an increased number of seats, and could form a governing coalition with the FDP. This term was overshadowed by the European debt crisis. Conscription in Germany was abolished and the Bundeswehr became a Volunteer military. Unemployment sank below the mark of 3 million unemployed people.
In the election of September 2013 the CDU/CSU parties emerged as winners, but formed another grand coalition with the SPD due to the FDP’s failure to obtain the minimum of 5% of votes required to enter parliament.
In the 2017 election, Merkel led her party to victory for the fourth time. Both CDU/CSU and SPD received a significantly lower proportion of the vote than they did in the 2013 election. and attempted to form a coalition with the FDP and Greens. The collapse of these talks led to stalemate. The German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier appealed to the SPD to change their hard stance and to consider a 3rd grand coalition with the CDU/CSU.
The first cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in at 16:00 CET on 22 November 2005. On 31 October 2005, after the defeat of his favoured candidate for the position of Secretary General of the SPD, Franz Müntefering indicated that he would resign as party chairman, which he did in November. Ostensibly responding to this, Edmund Stoiber (CSU), who was originally nominated as Minister for Economics and Technology, announced his withdrawal on 1 November 2005. While this was initially seen as a blow to Merkel’s attempt at forming a viable coalition, the manner in which Stoiber withdrew earned him much ridicule and severely undermined his position as a Merkel rival. Separate conferences of the CDU, CSU, and SPD approved the proposed Cabinet on 14 November 2005. The second Cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in on 28 October 2009.
In 2013, Merkel won one of the most decisive victories in German history, achieving the best result for the CDU/CSU since reunification and coming within five seats of the first absolute majority in the Bundestag since 1957. However, with their preferred coalition partner, the FDP, failing to enter parliament for the first time since 1949, the CDU/CSU turned to the SPD to form the third grand coalition in postwar German history and the second under Merkel’s leadership. The third Cabinet of Angela Merkel was sworn in on 17 December 2013.
In 1977 at the age of 23, Angela Kasner married physics student Ulrich Merkel and took his surname. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight. They first met in 1981, became a couple later and married privately on 30 December 1998. She has no children, but Sauer has two adult sons from a previous marriage. Merkel is a fervent football fan and has been known to listen to games while in the Bundestag and to attend games of the national team in her official capacity. Merkel has a fear of dogs after being attacked by one in 1995. Vladimir Putin, in a move reminiscent of Germany’s first chancellor, brought in his Labrador Retriever during a press conference in 2007. Putin claims he did not mean to scare her, though Merkel later observed, “I understand why he has to do this – to prove he’s a man. … He’s afraid of his own weakness.”
Merkel features as a main character in two of the three plays that make up the Europeans Trilogy (Bruges, Antwerp, Tervuren) by Paris-based UK playwright Nick Awde: Bruges (Edinburgh Festival, 2014) and Tervuren (2016). A character named Merkel, accompanied by a sidekick called Schäuble, also appears as the sinister female henchman in Michael Paraskos’s novel In Search of Sixpence.
On the American sketch-comedy Saturday Night Live, she has been parodied by Kate McKinnon since 2013.
On the British sketch-comedy Tracey Ullman’s Show, comedian Tracey Ullman has parodied Merkel to international acclaim with German media dubbing her impersonation as the best spoof of Merkel in the world.
In 2016, a documentary film Angela Merkel – The Unexpected, a story about her unexpected rise to power from an East German physicist to the most powerful woman in the world, was produced by Broadview TV and MDR in collaboration with Arte and Das Erste.