Germany's 'iron lady' to take on Schröder
A WOMAN known as Germany's Margaret Thatcher looks set to challenge the country's crisis-hit chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, in a snap general election later this year.
Angela Merkel, 50, is putting the creation of jobs and the taming of union power at the top of her agenda - themes that echo the Tories' "Britain's Not Working" message in 1979.
Her bid for power came after disastrous regional elections at the weekend prompted Mr Schrder to call for a vote of confidence in his government. His Social Democratic Party (SPD) will abstain, forcing a general election by September.
With an opinion poll yesterday showing Mrs Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) on 46 per cent, compared with the SPD's 29 per cent, it appears to be the biggest gamble of Mr Schrder's political life.
Mrs Merkel, who has still to be confirmed as her party's candidate as chancellor, said yesterday: "This is about only one question - whom do people trust to change Germany's fate for the better again? And on that front, we're really confident. This country needs jobs and we are the party to bring them."
Roland Koch, the CDU governor of the state of Hesse who has long been viewed as a rival to Mrs Merkel, appeared to clear the way for her bid for power. "I don't know anyone in the Christian Democrats who is of a different opinion - Angela Merkel is the woman for us," he said.
Mr Schrder's SPD-Green alliance appears to be in chaos, and the chancellor fears the left wing of his own party will only make things worse over the next 18 months. That was the message he gave his top lieutenants at crisis talks in Berlin yesterday to explain his risky strategy of forcing an election 12 months ahead of schedule.
The weekend loss of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which his party had held for four decades, was a bitter blow. He told loyalists he could either backtrack on the painful economic reforms that cost him the election or try to tame his party's militants by emphasising the need for unity to secure a popular mandate for a third time.
Mr Schrder will engineer the loss of a no-confidence vote in the German parliament on 1 July that will most likely pave the way for the president to grant him his wish for new elections on 18 September.
Yesterday, he gave a taste of the fear of change he will try to instil into voters, claiming the CDU will tear down the welfare state with "market radicalism".
The chancellor also believes feel-good factors will kick in between now and the likely election date.
Employment usually goes up in summer, the weather makes people feel better and he has far better TV magnetism and debating skills than his opponent.
In the 2002 election, Mr Schrder came from 15 percentage points behind to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the then conservative candidate Edmund Stoiber. But back then he was boosted by saying no to war in Iraq and by his quick response to devastating floods in east Germany.
The German media yesterday emphasised the gravity of Mr Schrder's situation. The influential Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said he had turned to "desperate measures".
Der Spiegel magazine put it even more bluntly, saying he was committing political hari-kiri and running the headline "Suicide through fear of death".
Merkel shows she has mettle to be first female leader
ANGELA Merkel may look unassuming with an unfashionable haircut, but she has the strength that earned Margaret Thatcher her "Iron Lady" nickname.
Mrs Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and trained as a physicist, beat down the doors of the old-boys' club of the Christian Democrats to rise to lead her party and is preparing to become the first female leader of the Fatherland. Industrialists, small shareholders, middle-class and middle-income earners are all looking to her as their saviour.
Few German female politicians have made it to jobs at the highest levels, let alone the chancellorship. But her straight-talking - she supported the war in Iraq against the run of public opinion in Germany - has won her admiration. And she has steered the party unswervingly on a pro-business track that seeks to cut taxes and curb union power.
Born Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in Hamburg, shortly after her birth, her father, a Protestant minister, and her mother, a teacher, moved over to the German Democratic Republic to take over a parish in Templin, Brandenburg.
Mrs Merkel was an active member of the FDJ Stalinist youth organisation. From 1978 to 1990 she worked as a scientist for the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry at the East Berlin Academy of Sciences and in 1986 she attained her doctorate. Her marriage ended in divorce in 1982, but she retains her husband's name. She has no children, has a long-term partner now but has no plans to remarry.
In 1989 she became a member of Democratic Awakening which was under the wing of the Evangelical Church. When it broke up, she moved straight into the ranks of the CDU. "For me, three things were immediately clear after reunification," she said. "I wanted to get into parliament, I favoured rapid German unity and supported a free-market economy."
Now she says: "I want to help Germany, the world's third- biggest economy, get back on its feet and start producing more than just unending unemployment statistics."
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