Studio guest Vladimir Sotnikov, Director of the East-West Strategic Studies Center, Moscow independent think-tank (studio guest), Dr. Nicolaus Heinen, Economist, European Policy Research, Deutsche Bank AG, Alf Ole Ask, foreign news commentator and former Washington correspondent at Aftenposten, Norwegian leading newspaper (Oslo), Paul Sanders, Anglo-German historian and management scholar, a full-time Professor at NEOMA Business School (France), shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
What do you think makes Angela Merkel a person o the year? And do you agree with such a position?
Vladimir Sotnikov: Yes, I completely agree with such a position, because take, for example, the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. Some politicians and experts are putting blame on Angela Merkel. They say that she is like a schizophrenic, saying one thing over the phone to President Obama in the morning and saying another thing to President Putin after the lunch. But anyway, she is actually navigating in between them. And at the same time, she is the main leading force from Europe for tackling this Ukrainian crisis. Another thing is that she is really a very tough politician who could save Europe from the future troubles.
In your opinion, what are the main achievements of the German Chancellor?
Dr. Nicolaus Heinen: Chancellor Merkel has been the “iron lady” of Europe so far, because she is, first and foremost, the advocate of Germany’s interests vis-à-vis its European peers. I think the greatest success from the German point of view was not to turn the Euro area into a transfer union in the current year of 2014, which had been the wish by our southern European peers, but which had been prevented by Chancellor Merkel. Instead, she convinced Jean Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission to embark on an investment program which is currently funded over the capital markets, but not by the common bonds of the Euro area. So, that is a success for Angela Merkel from the German point of view.
So, some are admiring her, others are criticizing the German Chancellor. Where do you stand in this?
Dr. Nicolaus Heinen: Due to the fact that Europe is currently faring on a bad equilibrium we are seeing direct and indirect redistribution taking place between the countries of the Euro area. And, of course, this causes envy and sensitivities, and this does not bring our continent to the fore. It used to be better when the countries of Europe were competing with each other in the European single market in the times before the crisis. But of course, the Euro crisis has established the new mechanisms of redistribution between the countries of Europe. And of course, this conflicts between Germany and its southern European peers. And the reactions that we are currently seeing, the critical voices of Angela Merkel are a natural result of that. The Euro crisis has made the various conflicts of interest obvious in Europe and all across Europe. And of course, the critical remarks by our southern European peers about Angela Merkel are a natural consequence of that.
You’ve mentioned the term “iron lady”, but there’s also been some talk of the new “iron curtain” emerging this year over the crisis in Ukraine. What do you see in this, given Angela Merkel’s tough line with Russia?
Dr. Nicolaus Heinen: That remains to be seen. Russia is currently not the biggest topic in Germany. Germany is currently focusing on its domestic and economic policies towards its European peers, because we are currently having an investment weakness in Europe. And Germany, together with its European peers is trying everything in order to solve that. So, therefore, Russia is only playing a marginal role and we are not seeing any new “iron curtain” being set up, particularly not by Angela Merkel.
From the European perspective and the things that she’s done for the Eurozone and for the EU, where would put Angela Merkel?
Alf Ole Ask: I think today she is the real political force in the EU. The France’s President has a lot of problems and Cameron has problems inside his own party where people want to leave the EU. So, she is really the strong political force in the EU, yes.
Some are even joking that she is the man of the year. There is also a talk that she was behind the election of the new NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg. Do you subscribe to that theory?
Alf Ole Ask: That’s true! She was the first person that called Mr. Stoltenberg and asked him if he would accept to be a candidate. So, when this was starting as a process, she was the person who was behind it from the very beginning.
Some are saying that she is a divisive figure. What do you make out of that?
Alf Ole Ask: When you move from the security policy to a common policy inside the EU, that’s for sure. She has been demanding, especially countries like Greece, Italy and other countries, to household their budgets, so to say. And that means that she has very-very strong demands for them. And she is not quite popular in a lot of those countries. That’s true. But on the other side, who pays for everything in the EU? Germany.
There is a trend of comparing her with the “iron lady”, who Margaret Thatcher was. If we compare these two leaders, what are the common and the different points?
Alf Ole Ask: They are both very strong political figures, but as I remember, Margaret Thatcher was more ideological and Angela Merkel is much more pragmatic. And that’s really the big-big difference between them. And Angela Merkel is more European, whereas Margaret Thatcher was more British or British-Atlantic.
And if we look at the Ukrainian crisis, her rhetoric towards Russia and Vladimir Putin has changed quite a lot recently. So, what is her position towards Russia now and is there any chance of reconciliation?
Alf Ole Ask: I think that is very much up to Putin. Putin has promised a lot of things and he hasn’t held it. And that is the problem. Angela Merkel is a person you can do business with. She saw that he hasn’t done that, so I think that’s up to him now.
Where would you put Angela Merkel?
Paul Sanders: I think one shouldn’t really attach too much to one person. It is a very interesting topic in leadership research to think that one leader has so much influence. What you need to know about Merkel is that she is heading a grand coalition, the left-right coalition in Germany. And that is already for the second time and that means she needs to be a consensualist. So, she spends most of the time trying to find out where the consensus lies.
The comparison with Margaret Thatcher is very misleading, because Angela Merkel is not an “iron lady”. She is a political realist, whereas Margaret Thatcher acted mostly on principle. Merkel is closer to a Bismarckian politics, as the out of the possible.
Some are describing Angela Merkel as a “bad cop” for Russia. Would you subscribe to the theory that Chancellor Merkel is just only putting pressure on Russia without trying to find any attempt to reach a consensus?
Paul Sanders: No, I don’t agree with that. I think with the “bad cop”, you also need to look at what the other coalition partners think in Germany. The SPD and Frank-Walter Steinmeier who is the Foreign Minister of Germany and a member of the SPD, he is doing the “good cop” routine. And you need to do that in a situation that is as complex, as the situation in the EU-American relations, European-Russian relations, plus the grand coalition. When you have this kind of complexity, it is four different levels of complexity that need to be managed. And that is where with one position you will not survive. You need to have at least two positions. And this is what they are playing on.
I don’t think Angela Merkel knows exactly what will happen in 2015, neither does Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But they need to keep the ball rolling all the time and that is what they are doing. So, I think what they are doing is completely consistent. It is not exactly readable in one particular sense, but it is consistent with the negotiations theory, because this is the situation we are in right now. This is an ongoing negotiation of which we do not yet know the outcome. This will come, perhaps, in 2015.