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Q&A: “Angela Merkel Is the Decider of Our Fate”

Mario Queiroz interviews Portuguese writer JOÃO LOPES MARQUES

João Lopes Marques: “Angela Merkel likes to think that one day, all Europeans will speak German, at least as a second language.” Credit: Mario Queiroz/IPS

LISBON, Jul 26 2013 (IPS) - “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” This famous question attributed to former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger has an obvious answer today: Angela Merkel, the conservative German chancellor.

Analytical and ambitious, Merkel became the country’s first woman chancellor (head of government) in November 2005. Nearly everyone, with conservative leader Helmut Kohl in the lead, underestimated the daughter of a Protestant pastor who grew up in East Germany, earned a doctorate in physics and quantum chemistry, and was involved in that country’s Communist youth movement.

Portuguese writer and journalist João Lopes Marques describes in the 270 pages of his latest book, “O Plano Merkel” (The Merkel Plan), what he calls the true story of the most powerful woman in the world, “the decider of our fate”. The book was launched in Lisbon on Monday Jul. 22.

Lopes Marques’ previous four books, “O Homem que quería ser Lindbergh” (The Man Who Wanted to Be Lindbergh), “Terra Java,” “Iberiana” and “Choque Cultural” (Culture Shock) had already won him acclaim.

The writer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a master’s in European Studies, told IPS in this interview that the financial crisis that broke out in 2008 “pushed Angela Merkel into the private realm of our daily lives” as suddenly “words like diktat, über alles, Fourth Reich and other Teutonic spectres found their way into European newscasts.”

Q: Merkel is at the centre of the most incredible conspiracy theories. How have they arisen?

A: Merkel is a totally atypical personality who made the transition between two worlds, from socialism to capitalism, and her political rise in the West was meteoric, utterly unimaginable.

She appeared at the right time, with the right profile. Then-Chancellor Kohl (1982-1998) needed a young Protestant from the East (the former German Democratic Republic) to trumpet the consolidation of German reunification. And what happened was so surprising that there are people who claim she is (Adolf) Hitler’s daughter, a CIA (U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) asset or even an extraterrestrial.

Obviously, I believe none of these things. However, there is a clear pattern to her political action: a great “Americaphilia”, sometimes in disguise. Atlantik-Brücke (Atlantic Bridge), a Berlin lobby group to which many of Merkel’s inner circle belong, takes part in the conferences of the Bilderberg Club – a community of interests between trans-Atlantic élites.

Q: What surprises you most about her character?

A: The same things that have surprised every other author who writes about her: her lack of ideology, vision and courage, the way she navigates without a moral compass.

Her only lodestars are money, her next re-election and her reappointment as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and of the German people. (She has a reputation) for putting off commitment until the last minute and her concessions are always very timid – as demonstrated by her management of the eurozone crisis.

Q: How would you define the current strategy for strengthening Germany’s power? Is Europe in a kind of war, as some analysts maintain?

A: To begin with the second part of your question, yes. Europe is truly at war – economically, especially, but also in terms of north versus south in the region. It will not be like the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) between Protestants and Catholics; rather than over religion, it has to do with cultures and lifestyles. The siesta, for instance, has become morally incorrect.

In the name of saving the euro, Germany feels it has the right to “Germanise” Europe. Merkel likes to think that one day, all Europeans will speak German, at least as a second language.

But the most important thing is that Germany is staking its future on three pillars: a) win the exports battle, especially to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) that represent 50 percent of GDP growth; b) take advantage of the weakness of neighbouring countries in the post-2008 crisis and use the opportunity to rewrite a new European order; and c) get rid of the more inconvenient post-war taboos, like being a militarily emasculated state, and controls on foreign arms sales.

Germany is already the third largest arms dealer in the world, after the United States and Russia.

Q: After eight years in office, Merkel is preparing for a third term. Is she grooming a protégé, an heir apparent to this continental power?

A: From what her biographers have said over the years, Angela enjoys exercising power. Indeed, she enjoys it too much. She has no children, no family that depends on her. This is her life work. Her popularity rating at the moment also helps, standing higher than the approval rating of her CDU party.

It is practically a given that she will win the Sept. 22 elections. The question of her successor is an enigma. There is talk of Thomas de Maizière, her defence minister, who launched her into big-time politics in 1990. Or Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, a former minister who resigned in 2011 over plagiarism in his doctoral thesis.

A third possibility is David McAllister, former prime minister of the state of Lower Saxony, whose father is Scottish. Angela sees him as a future champion of the free market, a pragmatist with his feet on the ground, like herself.

Q: What features of the German Democratic Republic still stand out in Merkel?

A: Her use of tacit silence. She will only give an answer – and never in black and white – when she no longer has the option to keep silent. Look at the scandal over PRISM, the U.S. electronic surveillance programme.

Angela Merkel always knows much more than she lets on. The same is true of what she shares about the first half of her life (in East Germany).

Another thing is her lack of sensitivity to values, including the ideological foundations of the European project, which was cooked up in the 1950s, precisely in order to avoid war with Germany.

And again: her indifference to history. With her we have entered a new era in quantum physics which is, after all, her specialty. Like Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, according to which an electron disappears at one location and we do not know where it will reappear, with Merkel we have something new – quantum politics: we shall never know for sure what her ideas are.

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  • Randy McDonald

    Conspiracy theories make for poor grounds for policy discussions.

  • Peacelover

    No one wants to take away your siesta…. Actually, I think Germans will turn to it as well should climate change mean that it will get hotter in our country…:-)
    But seriously: I think it’s really going in the wrong direction to speak of a war, and I wonder what the author hopes to gain by it. From my (German) perspective, we’re all trying to save Europe and the Euro together. Yes – indeed there is a self-interest in it for the economically strong Germany & Co. (would Portugal or any other country behave differently if it happened to be the currently strong one?!), but in the end we’re all in this together – we’ll all sink or swim only together…
    And Angela Merkel: I am sure she did not want to be in this role that she’s stuck in now…What she also lacks is a big EGO – and isn’t that nice for a change (among Politicians). Still, I don’t vote for her party…