German Chancellor Angela Merkel has emerged undamaged from the global financial crisis, European bailouts, an astonishing U-turn on nuclear power and the crisis over Ukraine.
Now, with the future of efforts to resolve Greece’s fiscal woes up in the air, the long-serving leader looks well-placed to emerge strong even if they fail.
Over a decade leading Europe’s biggest economy, Merkel has enjoyed consistently high popularity and accumulated a store of political capital at home that would be the envy of most other leaders on the continent.
Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union has a seemingly unassailable lead in the polls, no credible challenger is in sight and the German economy is strong. Her steady-handed, reassuring and risk-averse leadership style resonates with German voters and has earned her the nickname Mutti, (Mama).
Merkel has said repeatedly that her aim is to keep Greece in the eurozone.
However, voters are unlikely to hold a failure of that effort against her, “because she has owned this role of protector in the euro crisis for several years,” German polling agency Forsa political and social research head Peter Matuschek said.
“The majority have the impression that she’s doing what she can, and if it doesn’t work out it probably wasn’t down to her,” he said, with Greece’s government widely viewed in Germany as the culprit for the standoff.
Merkel’s knack for reassuring Germans that she has a confusing crisis under control dates back at least to 2008 when, amid the fallout from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, she announced that the German government was guaranteeing all private bank savings.
Since the eurozone debt crisis first flared in 2010, dragging Germany into a leadership role, she has kept up a delicate balancing act: Helping struggling countries to accept tough budget cuts and reforms while convincing Germans she is defending their interests — and wallets.
It was the German leader who advocated bringing in the IMF, with its experience as a tough taskmaster in international bailouts, to deal with Greece.
However, Merkel has also taken care to keep communications open with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, an ideological adversary, as negotiations bogged down.
That pragmatic persistence has become a Merkel trademark. It also has been on show in the crisis over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. She has won plaudits at home for tireless efforts to keep up dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and prevent the conflict from escalating.
At the same time, she has kept the country largely behind economic sanctions against Russia, despite their costs to German industry.
Merkel’s slow-but-steady approach to policy — she has frequently said Europe’s debt crisis must be tackled “step by step” — plays well at home.
She told German lawmakers last week that every move on Greece has been and would continue to be “very well-considered.”
If Greece and its creditors pull off a deal to avoid bankruptcy this time, the German parliament will have to sign off.
Merkel has not yet come close to losing any parliamentary vote on eurozone rescue measures, though 29 of her bloc’s 311 lawmakers voted against a four-month extension to Greece’s bailout in February — the biggest number yet.
She runs a “grand coalition” of Germany’s biggest parties with the center-left Social Democrats that holds about four-fifths of the parliamentary seats. The country’s next election is not due until late 2017.
So far, potential conservative rebels on Greece appear to be “the usual suspects,” Matuschek said.
While there is annoyance with Greece among conservative voters, “I think they will support the chancellor in case of doubt,” he said.
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