Savir's Corner: Angela Merkel’s leadership

Merkel walks in the footsteps of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle, who made the peace and unity of Europe possible.

February 16, 2012 22:47
Angela Merkel

Merkel reuters 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Would the world be better off with more women at the helm? A recent book by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, quoted by Prof. Joseph S. Nye in Project Syndicate, concludes that the answer is definitely yes.

He refers to the time of tribal societies, where man went to fight rival tribes while women looked to cooperate with their neighbors. Now, given the information revolution, the hierarchical pyramid of power has been transformed into a more circular multi-power network of players, with the main decision-makers in the middle.

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The pyramid power structure is better suited to man’s tendency to govern “by command,” while in the more circular system, women, who are more inclusive “by nature,” perform better in positions of governance (despite a still gross under-representation in all walks of life).

One of the “Better Angels of our Nature” seems to be Angela Merkel, the first female chancellor of Germany, who came to office in 2005. Merkel definitely fits well with the idea of governing in more inclusive systems – be it in a unified Germany or a unified Europe.

Both are more integrated and peaceful systems thanks to the quite unique character of leadership shown by Merkel. She is not an “angel in disguise” but if anything quite the contrary – one gets a sense with Merkel that what you see or hear is what you get.

An outspoken and courageous woman who states her views directly and openly with candor and forcefulness, her style of leadership is compelling, a leadership that aptly represents Germany’s strength in Europe and the world.

Her compassion for the weak does not allow for excuses or ambiguity from her counterparts.

Merkel’s greatest achievement is that she succeeded in turning her country into the uncontested leader of Europe.

With the German economy best weathering the global economic crisis, Merkel leads Europe in rescuing Greece and the euro zone, and in keeping the United Kingdom in the EU. When she disagreed with prime minister George Papandreou’s retreat from implementing Greece’s economic reforms she was tough as nails, and at the same time she made the EU come to the rescue of Greece. It seems no one fears a strong Germany at the heart of Europe anymore – Europe would be a much more fragmented continent today without Merkel.

She is a euro ideologue, leading with economic and political pragmatism. In her own words: “Nobody in Europe will be abandoned. Nobody will be excluded. Europe only succeeds if we work together.”

And work together she does, especially with France, walking in the footsteps of Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle who made the peace and unity of Europe possible.

The German-French connection is historically far from obvious. Two countries at war throughout the centuries, Germany and France are now in full political and economic cooperation and coordination. By her strengthening the alliance with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, peace in Europe is guaranteed, not just by these two leaders but by the system they have put in place – a system of economic interdependence and political, social, cultural and educational cooperation – from the EU to UEFA.

The young play an important role in the plans of Merkel, who served from 1991 to 1994 as minister for women and youth. The youth of Germany are given the highest level of education and are part of a vast program of European youth exchange, and as a result many of them play a prominent role in shaping the new Germany. In her own no-nonsense way Merkel said, “It is nonsense to say that Germans are unable to change.”

And under Merkel, a new Germany it is indeed. She speaks with vigor about the dark age of the nation and the Holocaust, and of a new liberal Germany based on the respect of human rights. Under her rule Germany is putting much emphasis on coming to terms with the horrendous past and developing a liberal, non-xenophobic society.

Under Merkel, Germany became a much more united country – few remember the former Stalinist East Germany. The economic gaps between the various parts of Germany have shrunk and integration has grown.

Angela Merkel is internationally popular.

On her last state visit to Washington in August 2011, President Barack Obama received her as a close ally, awarding her the highest civilian award – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Both leaders spoke of the quality and importance of the trans- Atlantic relationship.

An important angle to view every German leader is his or her relationship to the State of Israel. Here too it seems that Merkel succeeds in striking the right balance. She has put in place important education programs, dealing with the darkest chapter of Germany’s past – Nazism and the Holocaust. In her official visit to Israel in March 2008, she spoke to the Knesset in German about her own “Holocaust shame.”

The large exchange programs she has helped establish allows young Germans and Israelis to get to know the others’ new society.

The programs enable 6,500 youngsters from the two countries to meet every year and links 100 Israeli cities with German sister cities. Under Merkel, Germany is one of Israel’s main economic partners, and No. 3 when it comes to imports from Israel.

Most Israelis recognize that there is a new Germany – part of a reconciliation process without ever forgetting the past – a necessary, slow, yet important healing process for both sides. As a result tourism between the countries is flourishing. This historical process does not stop Chancellor Merkel from developing a comprehensive Middle East policy.

Germany is an important defense partner for Israel, supplying it with strategically significant submarines. On the other hand Germany has developed a good relationship with the Palestinian Authority, as Merkel expressed via Mahmoud Abbas’s recent visit to Berlin.

Germany generally votes with Israel in international and UN organizations, yet Merkel is probably the most outspoken critic of Israel’s settlement policies. When the line from Berlin rings in Binyamin Netanyahu’s office, it is often Merkel criticizing him, as her spokesperson said after their last call a few months ago: “The chancellor expressed her total disapproval of Israel’s settlement expansions that endanger the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.”

Angela Merkel is a new type of leader – ruling by inclusion, integration and honesty, and adapting her country and continent to a new age – a model leader for a new world. As The Washington Post described her, she is “Europe’s quiet leader.”

Quiet or not, given Germany’s new status in Europe and the world, we would all do well to listen to her.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.

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