The Chancellor by Kati Marton

The biography is interesting both for what it says and for what it omits. It’s remarkably thin in terms of content or juicy gossip. Merkel developed deep habits of paranoia when she lived in East Germany, so much so that years later she refused to use text or email. Her inner circle was so intensely loyal that nobody spilled the beans for this book, and it’s not clear that there were any beans in the first place.

A few facts do emerge: Merkel had immense stamina for diplomacy, for engaging in dialogue. Germany’s chancellor is the de facto leader of Europe, a role that Merkel carved out but never really desired.

Merkel’s tireless engagement with Putin contrasts sharply with Obama’s approach. Obama was disgusted with Putin and disliked speaking to him. Gradually the two leaders stopped speaking altogether. Merkel didn’t let emotion or dislike impede good diplomatic sense; she was frustrated by Putin but felt it was important to maintain dialogue; they spoke hundreds of times during her tenure.

Leadership by consensus is the only way to achieve domestic policy goals in Germany; this is difficult, and as chancellor Merkel had significantly more leverage over foreign policy. On the whole Merkel’s tenure was good for Germany; in 2005 Germany was not quite the acknowledged central power of Europe.  If Europe currently operates as a French-German enterprise, it’s because the Germans are so wary of their own history that they take exquisite care to bolster the European ideal. I found it noteworthy that Helmut Kohl, Merkel’s predecessor and mentor (whom she ultimately betrayed), was buried draped not in a German flag but in a European flag.

Merkel’s legacy will include the lasting ramifications of Nordstream. In the short term, Russian gas sustained Germany as a manufacturing powerhouse. One may also theorize that Merkel envisioned a large-scale collaboration with Russia as a means of enticing Putin into the European fold. The 2022 invasion of Ukraine has shown this to be a miscalculation.

Merkel killed nuclear power in Germany in one fell stroke after Fukushima happened. This is a controversial move, but the next time there is a reactor meltdown whether via an earthquake or via an act of war (read: Zaphorizhia in Ukraine), Merkel will be praised as a vsionary.  Neither lionization or demonization is the correct attitude.  Nuclear power is a superb source of energy *if humanity can deploy all of its guile and resourcefulness to safeguard nuclear power plants and safely dispose of the waste*. 

Nuclear power is dangerous in the hands of the stupid, careless or belligerent..  Merkel bet against humanity.  I can understand why.