Stainless Angela Merkel. This Sunday, the German Chancellor will celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of her accession to power. Ten months before the elections and the end of her fifth and last term, the one the Germans nickname Mutti (mother) is at the peak of her popularity, credited for her exemplary management of the Covid-19 crisis.
At the beginning of the month, his rating of favorable opinions pranced at 74%. Numbers and a longevity to make any President of the Republic on this side of the Rhine pale. Since November 22, 2005, it will have known four different ones and seen one after another seven foreign ministers and… thirteen European affairs ministers. We asked several of these French politicians who worked with her to tell us about “their” Merkel. A concert of praise as they were won over by a singular personality.
“She had written on the reliability front”
“From the outset, I felt in her an unfailing determination, behind her good-natured allure, confides Philippe Douste-Blazy, who met her in the late 1990s, when she was still only general secretary. of the CDU and he patron of centrist deputies. You could tell she didn’t want to be seen as Helmut Kohl’s creature (Editor’s note: chancellor from 1982 to 1998). “
His impression was confirmed in 2005 when, having become Minister of Foreign Affairs, he attended the first visit to France of the newly elected Chancellor. “She immediately put herself on an equal footing with Jacques Chirac, who had been president for ten years. She did the same with Vladimir Putin. I told myself that she would make a great chancellor and for a long time. “
Prime Minister of Chirac from 2002 to 2005, Jean-Pierre Raffarin also witnessed the emergence of Merkel with whom the current flowed immediately. “She wrote on the reliability front,” he says. He was not someone who was cheating. Its strength is to keep this straight road. With her, you don’t have the feeling that you can be fooled. “
“The woman of German unity”
The current Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, a perfect German speaker who has known her since coming to power, praises her “very great consistency”. Sarkozy’s Foreign Minister from 2007 to 2010, Bernard Kouchner also admits to having been amazed by the quiet strength of this daughter of a Protestant pastor. “She’s a woman who knows how to be strong but never tough,” he boasts. With this elevation of view specific to people who suffered in their childhood. In East Germany where she grew up, she realized what communism was in power. He is by far the greatest political figure in Europe. “
Same analysis on the side of Bruno Le Maire: “What makes her a historical figure is that she embodies German reunification. She is the wife of German unity. And that’s what explains its longevity. “
“The secret to its longevity is knowing where it comes from,” confirms Catherine Colonna, who was Minister for European Affairs in November 2005 when Merkel began her long tenure in the Chancellery. The current French Ambassador to the United Kingdom remembers in particular a “beautiful moment”, in May 2007 in Berlin, for the 50 years of the Treaty of Rome.
“All the European leaders marched on the Brandenburg Gate to get from one point to another, in relative disorder, joyful and quite unusual in these commemorations. The weather was fine, Angela Merkel was at home, all of Europe around her, she was the chancellor but above all she was a happy woman, the former child of the East crossing with a beautiful smile this place where it was raised the Wall. “
The Merkel method impressed its successive French interlocutors. Like Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister from 2012 to 2014, who has the advantage of being able to do without a translator to speak to him. ” She is sachlich, as they say over there: pragmatic, precise, meticulous. This comes from her temperament and her training as a physicist. It can be annoying because it is sometimes very slow, not super-funky. But she is a reassuring, reliable, solid leader: deutsche Qualität, as the ad says! ” (laughs).
A “fascinating” intellectual honesty, recognizes Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Secretary of State for European Affairs of Sarkozy, then Secretary General of Hollande. “With her, no need to beat around the bush or sing Mass to her!” He jokes. “Its quality? Solidity. His fault? Same… »smiles Catherine Colonna. Because, as Le Maire emphasizes, the Chancellor may be “very gentle, very attentive, very calm, very measured. This gentleness can also hide a very great inflexibility. “
But Merkel also amazes her French partners with her human qualities, she who has the reputation of being extremely modest. Admittedly, “she is reserved, possibly shy, which is surprising in the political world”, admits Nathalie Loiseau, Minister for European Affairs from 2017 to 2019 but “she is much more fun than you think”. After the European summits, it’s almost a ritual, Merkel meets the French president at their hotel bar to debrief in a very relaxed atmosphere during the day. Sometimes until 3 a.m. “She has a physical resistance comparable to that of Emmanuel Macron, continues Loiseau. In these moments, she has a lot of humor, of mischief. She never deprives herself of a good laugh and she is a great audience. “
In praise of slowness
“She looks at you, listens to you, there is not the slightest arrogance in her”, greets Ayrault again. “She is attentive to others,” confirms Kouchner, who always receives a note from the Chancellor on each of her birthdays. The French Doctor was also able to measure the influence of her husband, the very discreet Joachim Sauer: “He plays a very important role alongside her, they talk to each other a lot. I see them going to walk together along a lake, very complicit. “A strong and very modern relationship”, abounds Douste-Blazy, invited several times by the couple to the Bayreuth opera festival.
Seen from France, the resilience of the Chancellor, able to thwart successive crises with coolness, largely explains her longevity at the head of Germany. And perhaps also his ability to give time to time. “When you ask a question, she heard it, but she’s not going to answer it in a minute, she’ll think about it,” Kouchner recalls.
“This slowness, this attention to detail that surprised me at first – it can take several minutes if she deems it necessary to find the best moment to set the time and date for a meeting – could have been a problem in the past: for example during the Greek crisis ”, recognizes a current diplomat. “His taste for compromise prevented him from cleaning up within the European People’s Party (EPP), we see it with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban”, echoed Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner from 2014 to 2019.
But his prudence does not prevent him, in fine, from deciding: “She advances slowly then suddenly decides, and then everything accelerates”, recalls Ayrault. Merkel can then show political courage, as in 2015, when she decides to open the doors to a million refugees from the Middle East. “She took her risk and paid for it with unpopularity, notes Moscovici. What is paradoxical is that it was Germany with a Christian Democrat at its head that did it and not France, then led by a socialist president. “
The same welcomes his decision to accept the special European recovery plan Covid. “It has overturned the German budgetary orthodoxy which had been the rule since the end of the war, which marks a return to the foreground of Germany on European solidarity”. Because if Merkel knows how to surprise, it is not by chance: “Under the calm, the calculation, the reflection, there is also a capacity of reflected transgression which made its power”, underlines Bruno Le Maire.
And to recall: “She knew how to break with Helmut Kohl: it was she who sent the fax denouncing her financial practices within the CDU. It has made an energy turning point by bringing Germany out of nuclear power. Which was very clever politically, but it had the consequence of making the country dependent on coal plants. And the latest transgression to date is to have been able to impose on his coalition the lifting of a common debt in Europe. “
“She does her own shopping in Berlin”
Could Merkel have had the same success in France? Probably not. Question of character but also of political culture. “She embodies what the Germans expect from their leaders: reassurance, patience, temperance and stability”, argues Clément Beaune, Secretary of State for European Affairs since July and former diplomatic adviser to Macron. After a rather lyrical speech by Emmanuel Macron at the Bundestag two years ago, remembers a French diplomat who has his napkin ring in Brussels, she had slipped to an adviser “that she would feel incapable of doing that … and that no one in Germany expected this kind of speech from her ”.
Merkel embodies the German system based on permanent discussion and consensus. “It is consistent with his country: it pleases the Germans to have a Chancellor who is not a star,” Judge Raffarin. While Bruno Le Maire adds: “She has an immense quality: she is a simple woman. She does her shopping in Berlin herself. “Or as Moscovici sums it up:” Merkel is a normal chancellor like François Hollande wanted to be a normal president. But in France, f a president cannot be normal. “
Original article by : www.leparisien.fr