Chancellor Angela Merkel is a “she- wolf in sheep’s clothing,” intent on chewing apart the very fabric of German democracy, according to an unpleasant new book by a former adviser to one of her predecessors, Helmut Kohl.
She is an “undercover agent” with a hidden agenda, a locust, a chameleon and a sphinx, says author Gertrud Hoehler. And a shadowy “godmother,” the translation of the book’s title. The cover of “Die Patin” shows Merkel’s profile silhouetted against a white background. Inside, the metaphors tumble over each other as the hysteria wells.
It’s a book that betrays more about its author than the woman it ostensibly portrays. Hoehler, who is 71 and has published several management books as well as advising Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) and Volkswagen AG (VOW), casts herself as a standard-bearer for the western traditions and values of the ruling Christian Democratic Union; values she says Merkel doesn’t share and is determined to sabotage as a “usurper” from the east.
Merkel has made mistakes during her rule. Her handling of elections for the German presidency was catastrophic, and her frantic efforts to fill the post with an ally were unseemly. The speed of her U-turn on nuclear energy after the Fukushima disaster (and before important regional elections) was breathtaking, and the costs of that decision are astronomical.
Her handling of the European debt crisis has invited both scorn and plaudits. Hoehler accuses her of claiming “a permanent state of emergency” to push through centralized decisions and bypass parliament. There is no acknowledgement that “the permanent state of emergency” is an undeniable fact, and that Merkel is navigating stormy, uncharted waters.
To say Merkel’s government has “left the path of democracy” to become “an authoritarian system” is patently ridiculous. Merkel, Hoehler says, is becoming a “trendsetter for European nonchalance toward legal norms and laws.”
While it is legitimate to question the state of democracy in crisis-ridden Europe, Hoehler goes too far. She even asks whether Germans have forgotten “the experience that allowed two dictatorships in the 20th century.”
“One day we will wake up with no freedom, in a new centrally planned economy,” she says. “Germany is allowing authoritarian rule without resisting.”
It’s an attention-grabbing thesis. Unfortunately -- or rather fortunately -- there is very little to back it up in the book, which is most interesting as a compendium of superiority complexes toward East Germans that exist in privileged pockets of West German society.
Merkel clearly does not belong to Hoehler’s world. She is by turns “an alien,” “the girl from Otherland,” “a woman from another star” and even “an impostor.”
All this smacks of an over-developed sense of entitlement in cozy western CDU circles -- how dare this woman take the job that by birthright belongs to one of us?
What some would see as attributes, such as dispassionate analytical skills, an open mind or disdain for old-boy networks acquire sinister overtones in Hoehler’s book.
Merkel has no commitments, no loyalty, no morality, no empathy, no passion and no values, she argues. The points that contain some truth -- Merkel has switched direction quickly, she doesn’t give much away, she can appear mistrustful, she does dispose of rivals ruthlessly -- are undermined by Hoehler’s exaggeration.
The chancellor becomes something out of a Cold War horror movie -- an imported Soviet automaton, programmed only to acquire power and destroy the west. Yet polls consistently show she is the most popular politician in Germany, a subject Hoehler doesn’t even address.
It seems the act that Hoehler cannot forgive Merkel for dates back to 1999; the article she wrote as the CDU general secretary that finally pushed Kohl out of his remaining party roles in the wake of a funding scandal that threatened to annihilate the CDU.
Instead of admiring her moral courage for stepping in where none of her colleagues dared, Hoehler accuses Merkel of “patricide” and a “terrible deed.” By the end of “Die Patin” it has become “a spectacularly gruesome act” -- the first time I’ve seen a newspaper article described like that.
Hoehler shows her true colors here -- as someone who would rather defend a corrupt system than allow an outsider in to challenge established networks. She is affronted, indignant at the audacity of this upstart.
There is not a word of criticism for Kohl, whom she quotes liberally on Merkel, and who to this day refuses to reveal the names of illegal donors.
Hoehler’s snide snobbery is equally off-putting. “The fact that she is a very simple girl who never went to an elite school rises to the surface every now and then,” she writes. “The backstreet German gushes out.”
An objective analysis of Merkel’s rule -- the triumphs and the failures -- could be an interesting read. “Die Patin” is repetitive, alarmist, unbalanced and packed with unsubstantiated statements, contradictions and bogus psychology. Above all, those sour grapes in its pages leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
“Die Patin” is published by Orell Fuessli Verlag, 296 pages, 21.95 euros. To order the book, click here: http://www.ofv.ch/index.php?action=titel_detail&id=15348
To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.