World’s Most Powerful of Forbes: Angela Merkel is no. 2

Would you say that she deserves this position or not, and why?

Answers:

Christoph MeyerProfessor of European & International Politics, King’s College London

You will not be surprised to hear that I have my doubts about rankings of this kind and I could not possibly say whether the ranking is appropriate without knowing what is being measured when comparing powerful people – leadership qualities, the actual personal influence the person has in a given political system or the power of the country the leader is standing for?

Clearly Merkel is not powerful in the same sense as the US President or French President in foreign affairs – she has to take into account the views of coalitions partner (who hold the foreign affairs ministry), the Bundesrat when it comes to major changes, the Constitutional Court/Basic Law, the Bundesbank and of course public opinion. German chancellors by their nature have to build a consensus among these groups – its difficult for them them to forge forward with a grand vision – exception being perhaps Kohls 10-point plan for re-unification, but this was clearly an exception. What I can say is that a lesser able politicians than Merkel could have screwed up the handling of the Eurocrisis a while ago, she was dealt a very bad by her predecessor who build EMU, undermined the stability pact and let Greece in and was hit by the financial crisis, yet she managed to play this bad hand very well – I can just imagine the impetuous and public opinion-oriented Gerhard Schröder using inflammatory rhetoric to appease domestic opinion that would have alienated other European partners and would have made it impossible to keep the Eurozone together. Merkel managed to keep European partners on board, steer through the hurdles of the constitutional court and assemble two-thirds majorities in parliament for something that must in all countries be very unpopular – putting German tax-payers money at risk – and while the government is generally unpopupolar, Merkels personal approval rating are still high and she has public opinion on her side – leaving her personal qualities aside, Germany is of course in a pivotal position at this moment given the strength of its economy and its key role in the Eurocrisis and while it plays a key role in reforming the EU, it is still a reluctant leader in anything beyond it, we just need to think of Libya.

Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

I think that Merkel definitely deserves this position given that she is obviously leading Europe’s most powerful economy and the largest member state in the EU. Moreover Germany is one of the most powerful economies in the world.At the same time one may ask how she is using this position and here I would say that she is definitely not making good use of the power resources and the influence she has. Merkel has failed to provide long-term and strategic leadership over the Eurozone crisis. She has so far failed to make a groundbreaking speech which acknowledges the hardship and social impact the austerity measures cause in some of the crisis economies, particularly in Greece. She has also not set out what the purpose of the political and fiscal union she aspires is and how she intends to ensure that the gap between the elites and the citizens in Europe does not grow further as a result.

Moreover, Merkel has also not been honest about the nature and the extent of the crisis. As a result she keeps pretending to German taxpayers that the loans which Greece receives under the EFSF will be fully repayed (including interest). Given the severity of the crisis in the Greek economy which is now essentially a depression it is however unlikely that Greece will be able to pay back anything for the foreseeable future, never mind the full amount of the loans it has already received.

I therefore would say she is one of the most powerful politicians but is one of the weakest when it comes to providing leadership. Merkel had a PhD in Chemistry and essentially adopts a natural science approach to political problems. This means she identifies a problem and then offers a a rational, short-term solution rather than to pursue a long-term strategic and visionary plan. This explains why the EU is in fact currently driven by the assessment of rating agencies rather than by political leadership.

A. James McAdamsProfessor of International Affairs, Director, Nanovic Institute for European Studies University of Notre Dame

It’s impossible to rank politicians in this way, but certainly Merkel has become one of the world’s most influential leaders. Germany is the key player in determining the health of the European financial situation and, as Americans among others have learned over the past year, the entire world is affected in one way or another by the good or bad fortunes of European markets. In this regard, there is no one who is more important in deciding Germany’s response to the financial crisis in southern Europe than Merkel; without her support for creative European solutions to these circumstances, there will be no unified pan-European response. Merkel has also begun to broaden her influence beyond European shores. This was manifested, for example, in her willingness to take a strong stand against the Israeli government’s support for new settlements in the West Bank.

Rüdiger WurzelReader,  Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Hull

Whether Merkel is the second most powerful person (rather than the second most (or even most) powerful woman) in the world depends to a large degree on whether Germany is perceived as the second most powerful country in the world. I do not think that the latter is the case. Instead Germany is ‘only’ a medium-sized power which economically is increasingly punching its weight although militarily is (still) punching well below its economic weight. I therefore also do not think that Merkel is the second most powerful person in the world although she might possibly be the most powerful woman in the world. One could possibly argue that Merkel in EU (or international politics) punches above the weight of a German Chancellor. However, in my view, this would still not make her the second most powerful person in the world.

Ed TurnerLecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

Angela Merkel is in a close-to-unassailable position as German chancellor (there’s a hostage to fortune if ever there was one!), and is critically important in steering choices – political and economic – for the Eurozone. I have my doubts about lists such as these, but nobody should question Angela Merkel’s critical importance!

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