Edinburgh Book Festival: Matthew Qvortrup on "The Most Powerful Woman on the Planet"

Edinburgh Festival review
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Matthew Qvortrup with Al Senter in the Chair.
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Matthew Ovortrup's book on Angela Merkel was hugely popular and the Studio Theatre in Charlotte Square Garden was full. At the introduction, Qvortrup joked that this book on Angela Merkel was the most interesting that he had written as his previous ones had been about referendums!

Ovortrup added that some people found difficulty with his name, indeed one wag had likened his name to the top letters of any keyboard! He told us that he had met Angela Merkel and had been able to ask her some questions about her past and her political ambitions. One thing he did stress was that her name was pronounced as 'Angeela' Merkel with a drawn out 'e' in the Angela.

Quortrup said that Merkel had been born as Angela Dorothea Kasner in 1954 in Hamburg to Horst Kasner and his wife Herlind. Her father was a Lutheran pastor and so moved to an area of East Berlin so this makes Merkel the first person - and also the first woman - to become Chancellor of Germany. She does have a Polish family background and possibly this is why she is known to be a very clever imitator of the Polish Pope, John Paul II.

After schooling where she became fluent in Russian, she attended the Academy of Sciences and received a doctorate for her thesis on 'quantum chemistry'. She worked as a researcher but was always attracted to politics and got involved in the growing democracy movement at the time when the Berlin wall came down. She joined the CDU and as her position became more established, she eventually became the Minister for Women and Youth in the CDU Government.

As the youngest Cabinet Member she was very much a protegee of Chancellor Kohl. Her rise had been remarkable, but it was then helped by the funding scandal which involved both Helmut Kohl and also his successor Wolfgang Schauble. She moved on to become the Secretary General of the CDU when the Kohl Government was defeated in the 1998 elections.

From there she lost the CDU candidacy for chancellor to Edmund Stoiber in 2002. In the 2005 election, Merkel narrowly defeated Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, winning by just three seats, and after the CDU agreed a coalition deal with the Social Democrats (SPD), she was declared Germany's first female chancellor. Merkel is also the first former citizen of the German Democratic Republic to lead a reunited Germany and the first woman to lead Germany since it became a modern nation-state.

She was elected for a second term in 2009 and in the election of 2013 the CDU/CSU parties emerged as winners although they formed a grand coalition with the SDP. As Chancellor she has had to bring in and maintain austerity policies since the crash of 2008 which have not been popular with many, however, Germany still has one of the strongest economies in the world so some may feel that she has handled the difficult times well.

Quortrup stated that the present policy advocated by Merkel of allowing free flow of refugees had harmed her position, although it was still too early to say whether this policy dislike will be carried on to the ballot box at the next election.

For many the jury is still out although there have been several protests against the policy. It will depend upon how many incidents the refugees create or are attributed to them. It will also depend on national security. In Germany the feeling is at the moment that we need to think before we act.

This was an excellent and fascinating session with Matthew Ovotrup's new book obviously going to be a 'best seller'.

Angela Merkel: Europe's Most Influential Leader by Matthew Qvortrup was published by Overlook Press in July 2016.