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Angela Merkel: Europe's Most Influential Leader Book cover

Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader

Interview With Matthew Qvortrup

Download Chapter 14: Ukraine, Another Greek Tragedy, and the Refugee Crisis   |   Purchase

Matt QvortrupMatthew Qvortrup is Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Coventry University. An expert on European politics and democracy, his most recent book is Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader. A lawyer as well as a political scientist, he earned his doctorate at the University of Oxford. He was awarded the PSA Prize in 2013. Before his academic career Qvortrup served as Head of the Gun Crime Section in the British Home Office.

Dionne Rosser-MimsDionne Rosser-Mims is Associate Professor of Adult Education and Associate Dean in the College of Education at Troy University. The recipient of TROY’s Wallace D. Malone, Jr. Distinguished Faculty Award, her areas of focus include adult learning and development, higher education administration, and leadership development with an emphasis on women and underserved populations. She has authored three books and is the co-founder and co-editor in chief of Dialogues in Social Justice: An Adult Education Journal, a peer reviewed open access journal.

DIONNE: I’m here today with Matthew Qvortrup author of Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader. Hello, Matt. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have this conversation with you concerning your book on Chancellor Angela Merkel. What inspired you to write about this very important woman, this female leader of Germany? Tell me a little bit about your journey.

MATT: My journey is really that I grew up speaking German and, of course, when you’re a political scientist, you sort of look at the things where you have a particular expertise. So I’ve been following her for many years in a professional capacity as a political science professor. I initially took the boring approach in my career; I did research about— who gets how many votes and so on and so forth. But my real interest was always people and how men and women can make a difference. And, I got interested in her because she seemed so different, business-like and competent at a time when other politicians behave like celebrities. So, I started following and looking at her and comparing her to the cast of other leaders at the time, most of who were in some ways almost caricatures of leaders. You had Sarkozy, who was a bit flashy and you had Putin, who was almost a caricature of other Russian leaders, and they were quite machismo types of politicians. Angela Merkel stood out as being, first of all, someone with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, which is not common among politicians.

DIONNE: That is a fascinating thing about her.

MATT: Yes. She is someone who made a virtue out of taking her time and saying, well, I need to learn the facts. I’m not just going to go off like a firecracker. And, in fact, in Germany they’ve invented a word, zu merkeln, based on her name, which means to take your time and not make a rash decision. I thought, from a leadership perspective she’s interesting because she’s somebody who really takes evidence-based policymaking seriously. In a professional capacity I was interested in that.

I was further intrigued when, after diving into the archives and going to Germany and even having a small talk with her once at an international summit, I was quite surprised to discover that the character that we see on TV, which is quite demure and very controlled, is also a little bit chatsy. She likes to tell jokes. She’s able to imitate other politicians’ voices, and she is quite different from the public face of the politician that we see. As I learned more and got further into it, I found out that she had been living as a squatter in Berlin while she was spending way too many years getting her doctorate and her parents didn’t think she would amount to anything. So the story itself became more and more interesting. In the end I thought, I’ve got to write this book. I had been writing little bits already and in about a year I put it all together and the rest is, I suppose, history.

DIONNE: Tell me, how did she acquire the nickname Mummy?

MATT: [Laugh] It’s funny, in Britain, and possibly also in America, to say that you’re mumsy is a little bit of an insult, whereas in Germany it’s the other way around. Mummy – or Mutti in German - is a round and kind person who looks after people. I think, perhaps, it is an expression of different political culture. Of course, it’s quite interesting that she doesn’t have children but, in Germany, she sort of plays to that image of mummy. I think one shouldn’t be blind to the fact she’s also a politician. She cultivates an image and one of the images she likes to cultivate is that of her being a mutti.

Interestingly, there is a German playwright, Bertolt Brecht, who wrote a play Mutter Courage und Ihre Kinder — ‘Mother Courage and Her Children.’ Merkel has, on occasion, nodded to or half-quoted from that play. Mother Courage is about a woman who lives at a time of war and upheaval and who is shepherding her children through that difficult period. Merkel likes to cultivate that image to a degree, but she is also quite serious about it. She feels that as Chancellor of Germany her foremost goal is to make decisions that are good for Germany, which also means occasionally being the mother hen who makes decisions that your children may not like or may not see the wisdom of. This could be one of the things at play with the decisions related to the immigration crisis, of course.

DIONNE: How did her childhood influence her leadership approach and world view? She grew up under communism.

MATT: I think it influenced her in ways that really cannot be underestimated. She was born in 1954 during the height of the Cold War. Her parents actually lived in West Germany but her father, who was a Protestant clergyman, was asked by the bishop to go to East Germany, at some personal risk really and at considerable personal cost. So her family voluntarily went into the communist part of Germany and lived there. Obviously the Communist authorities were quite suspicious of this westerner. There was a spy assigned at all times to cover their every movement. Every day at school she would be told all sorts of things about Joseph Stalin and Khrushchev and the Soviet Union. Her mother, who was trained as an English teacher, wasn’t allowed to teach in East Germany because English was considered a suspicious language. She would talk to Angela every day and also her two other siblings and tell her what she should and should not believe in. Interestingly, Angela had no choice but to join the FDJ, the Free German Youth, which is an indoctrination-oriented Brownie or Scout-like movement that the Communist party had. She would, in some ways, toe the line, but she also learned to be very quiet and not speak up, which you can still see now. Whenever she’s in negotiations she’ll wait, she won’t reveal her hand, while other politicians, who shall remain nameless, tweet at four o’clock in the morning.

DIONNE: [Laughs] Yes. You talk a good bit about her style and how very measured and methodical she is. It’s almost like a game of chess.

MATT: I think it’s interesting you mention chess because chess, of course, is very popular in Russia with many of the world’s best players being from there. Angela, as she grew up, was an exceptionally good linguist. She won East Germany’s Russian language Olympiad, which is quite a feat and was quite important at that time because of the Soviet Union. Of course, as a scientist, one tests hypotheses through experimentation and I imagine you have to be quite careful so things don’t go horribly wrong and you blow something up. So, I think her training as a research scientist, her background as being good at languages, I think that shaped her methodical approach.

She likes to tell this story about how in grade three everyone in East Germany had to do a sport. East Germany won a number of gold medals in the Olympics and the regime was quite keen on that. Angela was not a particularly sporty person, but she was relatively tall for her age so they thought she would be good at three-meter board diving. So the teacher at the aquatic pool told her to climb up to the diving board and then take the plunge. She went up and, of course, when you’re up there, it looks quite scary to jump. So she sort of walked to and fro, looked into the water, and walked back again, analyzing the situation. The teacher was resigned to the fact that she wasn’t going to do it when suddenly, just before the bell rang signaling the end of class, she took the plunge and jumped head first into the water. She likes to tell that story because it illustrates how ever since she was a little child she would pause and analyze a situation from many different angles before suddenly making up her mind and going for it. Obviously part of liking to tell that story is that it’s about qualities she likes to hear about herself, but you can see that the way she acts is very much consistent with that approach. Again, it’s merkeln, where one can, in a good way, take time to procrastinate and analyze rather than shooting off tweets in the middle of the night, something that happens on both sides of the Atlantic, I dare say.

DIONNE: [Laughs] What does she make of that communication approach?

MATT: It’s interesting. There was a story a couple of weeks ago about a dossier where she was basically doing her homework on Donald Trump. And she said, in a cheeky sort of way, last week I was reading Playboy magazine. People said, you were doing what? Well, she replied, I needed to familiarize myself with a new individual that’s come on the stage and reading Playboy magazine is part of my homework to understand this individual. [Laughter] Don’t say that Germans don’t have a sense of humor.

Throughout her entire career, she’s been dealing with machismo-like politicians. First she had to out-maneuver a number of quite conservative politicians in her own party, and then she was up for election against Gerhard Schröder, who is also an alpha male type of politician. Of course, her adversary in most encounters is Vladimir Putin, whom she has occasionally corrected for his not-always-impeccable Russian grammar. He has responded in kind — he was a KGB man in East Germany and speaks rather good German. So, I think she’s quite used to dealing with male individuals who shoot from the hip.

DIONNE: What about her background and experiences prepared her to operate in and be so successful in a male-dominated political world?

MATT: One of the things that I found interesting in doing the research for this book was that East Germany, for all of its enormous number of faults and flaws, was a relatively gender-equal society. For example, most women in East Germany worked and were part of the workforce, whereas the opposite was the case in West Germany at the time that the countries unified. Her default position seems to be, I don’t need to do anything extra, and women are just naturally part of the workforce and part of the political world. I think that’s why she has always said she never saw any particular reason to be a feminist.

There was a very interesting interview with her, I think around 1992, a couple of years after the unification of Germany, when she was a junior person in the government. She became a cabinet minister within a year, by the way, of going to her first political meeting, which is quite astounding really. But, in the interview she talked about how once she became a politician, people could be quite harsh and their tone could be quite brutal. A couple of times she either cried in public when she had been told off or she would become very emotional. And she said in the interview that she needed to control that and not show her emotions. She needed to stop crying.

This strikes me as an important moment and the working title for my book was actually The Woman Who Stopped Crying, but my publisher, who perhaps thinks in terms of Amazon.com and search terms, thought that was a bit too sophisticated so instead we have the title Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader. She was aware of the fact that she was a bit of a softy and she had to work on that. Like everything, she took a methodical approach to figure out the steps to get from A to B. She realized what her goals were and then she went for them.

Another thing that strikes me is what you might call her grit or perseverance. Over the years a lot of people have counted her out. At the moment, the opinion polls in Germany are neck and neck. There is no guarantee that she’s going to win again in September [2017]. But that has been the case on a number of occasions before and then she settles down and does all the hard work and, more often than not, prevails.

DIONNE: How did the refugee crisis and the decisions that she made around that pivotal issue influence and have an impact on her leadership and where she is today?

MATT: It’s interesting. When I talk to people in America and Britain, and to a degree in Germany, but mostly abroad, people say that it was a mistake for her to let in all these people. Of course, she wouldn’t see it like that. There were a number of reasons for her to let in the immigrants. The first reason — and she would say this quite categorically — is that many people in Germany know somebody who was carried in a basket across a border. Germans grew up in a world like that and can empathize with people in that situation. Number two, she would argue, Germans have a legal obligation under certain UN charters to take in refugees. Other countries have not lived up to their treaty obligations, but, she would say, Germany is a country that believes in the rule of law so we do what we have signed up to. Viktor Orbán, who is the prime minister of Hungary, who is of a fairly populist bend if you like, said we need to put up a fence and she said, well, you grew up in a communist system, I’ve grown up in a communist system — we don't like fences. We don’t like walls. She’s been very poignant about that. There’s also this element of a humanitarian approach — the clergyman’s daughter having learned about love thy neighbor.

A third reason is economic. A lot of people in Germany, including the CEO of Mercedes Benz Dieter Zetsche, have said Germany needs skilled workers. A lot of highly educated people emigrated from Germany to America and worked, for example, as engineers for various companies, contributing to the American post-World War II economic boom. The argument, from that perspective and the left side of her party, is that Germany is an aging nation; it can take in people and that influx will lead to more economic growth. So, in addition to having a legal and humanitarian duty to help other people, that duty can also be translated into cold, hard cash. It’s estimated that the German economy has grown an extra one percent as a result of taking in the refugees. Because, with the refugees coming in that means that people have to teach them, that means that people have to build houses for them, and those activities and others like them stimulate the economy. Then, gradually, many of the refugees start to work, contributing in that way. By the way, the vast majority of the people who come in have become very patriotic people simply because Germany stepped up and helped them. Just like the Cubans who came into America and the Poles and the Russians who went to America and became very patriotic Americans, Germany now has very patriotic people from Syria who speak German with an Arabic accent.

Personally, I find it heartwarming that in this day and age when a lot of politicians are going for the populist approach, you have somebody who can stand up for the other view. Now, having said that, there is the Alternative für Deutschland, which is a party that has compared itself to the current U.S. president and has said that Germany needs to follow an anti-refugee approach and make sure refugees don’t come in. They were riding relatively high in the polls, getting upwards of 20 percent, but they have now fallen back to about 10 percent so it’s very unlikely that they will play any role. So, you see, in Germany, there are people in Merkel’s own party and others who criticized her position, but members from different political parties also supported her.

DIONNE: To have that span of power and influence across parties is a significant strength.

MATT: Yes, I think it is. You know, I lived in North America in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and I remember a time when that was not uncommon in the United States. Senators who were Democrats such as Daniel P. Moynihan and Sam Nunn would work with the Republicans. There was a time in America where that was quite common. You could reach across the aisle. Nowadays, of course, that’s less the case, but I think it’s interesting that Germany, in some ways, has a political culture which is akin to that of America of yesteryear, where to reach out and be less partisan was a thing that was cherished greatly.

DIONNE: How do you think she defines power, or her use of power, in her leadership approach?

MATT: Power for her is not a thing, which is abstract; it is the ability to get things done. As much as she likes to think and analyze, she has said, I don’t like to sit around and discuss things to death, I like to do things. I’m interested in winning elections so that I can govern, not so I can talk about things. But, having said that, she is also someone who has never had a majority of her own to work with, she has always needed to work with other people. She’s had to reach out and create a grand coalition with the larger opposition party or form a coalition of parties that are close to her own. But, even then, she has faced a hostile Bundesrat, which is what Americans might call the German Senate. To get things done, she’s always had to find ways of maneuvering and finding compromises. She’s had to be quite creative in finding new alliances and people she can work with and recognizing people she can’t work with.

I think that experience of coalition building to get things done has also helped her internationally. Many politicians see politics as a game where they just sort of bulldoze things through. They say, I’m not going to stand for that or they issue ultimatums, which will turn out to be hollow because they can’t actually do what they say. She would never start negotiations by saying what she won’t or can’t really do. She always starts by listening a lot and then gradually she turns up the heat and goes to the wire, really, to do things. For example, when there was a banking crisis she put a limit on how much money bankers can earn and how large bonuses they are allowed to receive in Germany in return for her support for the financial industry. Many of these hard-nosed German bankers said no, it’s not going to happen; it’s not going to happen. Okay, but it is if you make concessions. It’s an example of her playing hardball but in a way that is always charming and, going back to what we talked about before, in a mothering style really.

DIONNE: In addition to your book, Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader, a couple of other books about her have come out over the past five years. You all seemed to be working on your books at virtually the same time, filling a space that was previously vacant. Why were people suddenly interested in writing these book-length treatments about her?

MATT: When you write a book I think the most important thing is that you feel the subject you’re writing about is someone who will have an impact. Merkel has now proven herself to be that someone. Writing as a political historian requires a lot of research. The hard work is gathering all the material. You have to grasp, you have to find all the sources. I based my book entirely on German sources. I suppose that’s the thing that the general reader doesn’t think about when they read a book. They say, well, you just sit down and write it. But there's a lot of gathering of piles. When I was immersed in working on the book, my partner would say that another woman had moved into the house. Books, magazine articles, anything to do with Angela Merkel would be everywhere in the house taking up space. I probably wasn’t particularly interesting to live with because everything I would talk about would be...

DIONNE: Angela. [Laughs]

MATT: Right. One of the things that took a long time was digging into the variety of sources that I did. It’s one thing to look at the political interviews where she would be on her guard and it’s another, equally interesting thing, to look at the talk show programs she’s been on or how she thinks and portrays herself in articles for women’s magazines. Coming back to your question, I was quite surprised people hadn’t written books about her before this period. Most male politicians don’t have to wait so long to have a book written about them. Berlusconi, Sarkozy, Obama, Putin, they’re fairly predictable, these books. There is probably an element of sexism about it. Personally, I thought Angela Merkel would be much more interesting to write about.

DIONNE: In your book, you address what some have perceived as vulnerabilities — and which, in my view, became leadership strengths for her. Some would argue that those vulnerabilities could be associated with issues of sexism, classism, and so forth. Did you struggle with framing her and the challenges she faced as a female leader in Germany rising to this level of prominence to become the first female chancellor of Germany?

MATT: Yes, I did. If I can take my own side of the story, when my agent and I started looking for a publisher, we would meet with people, some of them would say she’s just not very interesting; she’s not a strong leader. But, she’s won several elections, I would reply. Germany is now the strongest country in Europe and they elected her so she must be strong. Oh, that’s not her, they would argue. And I would say, actually, it is her, because of the way she operates. She has women around her who are exceptionally competent. Her chief of staff is a woman. Her spokesperson is a woman. At some stage, her chief economist was a woman. She has a very different approach and this was difficult for people to grasp.

When you’re dealing with leadership, you can’t just look at the people who have military might because Germany has no military might, for good, historical reasons, and yet she is able to negotiate successfully with someone like Vladimir Putin. She was able to use her skills to get other countries to impose sanctions on Putin and, in many ways, stop him in his tracks. She was able to impose on certain German industries that were making money off of Russia and say, we’ve got to stop this guy because this guy is bad news. But, whenever I would tell that story, people would say, that’s not really leadership. That’s not what we expect to find in leadership. I found a lot of people who said she’s not like a traditional female leader like Margaret Thatcher in Britain or Indira Gandhi in India, and I agreed. That’s her unique selling point. But, she’s only considered to be a leader by a generation that is over the flashiness, a generation where everyone just wants to get things done, really.

It was very much an uphill struggle to get the book contract and then, while I was writing the book, the editors were not optimistic. They said things like, you know, there’s a Greek crisis and she’s really playing with fire and distracting with what she’s doing. In the process of writing the book, I found that the difficulty was not just gathering the material and it was not just getting the words down on paper, it was also working against the assumption that there is only one type of leadership and that that type of leadership is machismo with the style of I’ll bully you until you accept it.

I think most successful leaders around the world can probably learn from Angela Merkel. She is more successful than they have been, and that’s because she has used an approach, which is sort of sotto voce as they say in Italy — soft-spoken. It’s “speak softly and don’t carry a big stick,” to turn around the old Teddy Roosevelt maxim. She has succeeded in creating a country that is quite moderate. She’s done it by finding different coalitions, talking to people, and by being nonthreatening. I think a lot of her male colleagues underestimated her from the start of her political career and continue to do so now to their peril.

DIONNE: I was fascinated by a piece you wrote about the lecture she invited her colleagues to attend given by a top brain researcher.

MATT: That is an interesting story. About 12 or 13 years ago, a lot of people like the Archbishop of Cologne and the Speaker of the German Parliament received an invitation from Merkel to come and listen to an eminent neuroscientist giving a lecture about the brain, and they were saying well, what's this? Then underneath in sort of small print was a note saying, by the way, I’m also celebrating my 50th birthday and I’d be delighted if you came along. Instead of having a party, her idea of fun, if you like, was to invite people to come and listen to a lecture about the brain, which is a thing she’s genuinely interested in as a scientist. So people came and listened to this eminent scientist talk about the brain and one of the things talked about was that there’s a neurotransmitter in the brain that they believe actually makes it easier for women to multitask. Well, some people clearly thought the whole thing was odd and obviously you can see the irony of people in her own party being a little bit skeptical of scientists because, after all, scientists tend to believe in Darwin and evolution and other terrible things, and she comes from a party which is very much like a fundamentalist Christian party, well, part of the party, anyway. So I think she was doing it with a bit of a cheek. Some have even implied that it was an intelligence test of sorts to see who showed up and who didn’t.

When she turned 60, she did it again. This time, she invited people to a lecture of greater patterns of world history by a specialist on 21st century globalization, which was equally high-brow. She’s somebody who doesn't really go for the popular. I remember once she was in Austria and she was asked who her favorite artist was and she said she listens to Richard Wagner who, while arguably a populist during his own time, is not really a popular touch point now. I think she doesn’t try to be popular. That’s the difference I suppose between Britain and America, and Germany. We like people to do a little bit of small talk and make reference to popular culture and if people are a little bit too cultured, then we’re suspicious. They’re elite or snobbish. But, in Germany, to listen to classical music and to have a doctorate is admired. So I think she’s playing to a more receptive audience in that regard.

DIONNE: You mentioned her party’s Christian orientation; have her spirituality or religion influenced her leadership?

MATT: I think it is interesting in some ways because, obviously, her party is called the Christian Democratic Union, but she’s not really the proselytizing type. She will occasionally talk about how she grew up going to church or that she has her faith and it gives her strength, but she doesn’t preach about it. I tried to ask her a question about whether she saw a dichotomy between her life as a scientist and her prominence in the Christian Democratic party and she sort of evaded it. I think, for her, the Christianity she believes in is very much in the vein of love thy neighbor, like I mentioned earlier with regards to the refugee crisis. Her Christianity and its role in her political life is more like Jimmy Carter than Sarah Palin, if I could use some American comparisons.

DIONNE: After the challenge of getting a publisher were there any other challenges in writing the book?

MATT: When I was working on the book I found that the story, the narrative, was almost writing itself. When you’re writing a biography about somebody who has had an incredibly interesting life, really you just have to report it and use the great quotes and so on. So, that part was less challenging. The part that was the most challenging was something I alluded to earlier, writing a compelling narrative to illustrate that she is a tremendous leader and convincing people that leaders can be successful by being the quiet force or the forceless force of the better argument. This is an often-used line of thinking in Germany, that if you’ve done your homework and you have the better argument, you will succeed. I would often say to other people that she’s very successful because she actually reads the small print. She prepares.

In her office in Willy-Brandt-Straße in Berlin, there is a picture there, a portrait of Catherine the Great, the Russian empress. A journalist who interviewed her gave it to her and Merkel hung it up right there in the chancellor’s office. When people ask, why did you put a Russian leader up? She’ll reply that the Empress of Russia was born in Prussia, which was a part of Germany. She was a German princess who became the leader of Russia and who had a style of charming and cajoling people and using the skills that were available to her to get her way. And then Merkel will say, with a twinkle in her eye, of course I’m not a princess of Russia.

Catherine the Great was a bit more of a forceful person than Merkel. For example, she led a coup against her husband the Emperor Peter III. Angela Merkel is not that type of person, but she very much models herself on Catherine the Great in a different way. You see, Catherine the Great was also, famously, somebody who would listen to scientists and listen to what we might call evidence-based policymaking. And she became quite successful in that. Until Angela Merkel, Catherine the Great was probably the most successful female leader in human history. Nowadays, it might be that Angela Merkel has overtaken the position.

DIONNE: You end your book with the following statement: “Elected politicians are not queens and kings. In the age of popular sovereignty, leadership can at most be stewardship.” Tell me more about that statement. Why did you end with that?

MATT: Politicians in democratic countries never have a full mandate. They never have. They don’t even have 50 percent of the population behind them. To believe that you have a mandate and can ram things through, that is just not the way that things work anymore. They might not have even worked if you were a Roman emperor. National leaders are the acting head for the people, somebody who’s literally a representative. In a way, leaders are ambassadors for their people. They receive instructions from the people and act on their behalf. They might know more than they do, like a good lawyer will know more than his or her clients, or a real estate agent will know more about buying and selling houses — we have loads of experts that we trust, but nowadays the experts that we have are people who work for us, not people who rule over us. Leadership, then, is a kind of stewardship rather than a master role. I think if politicians could be a little bit more humble in a way that I think Angela Merkel has been, realizing that you don’t have to bully and you can succeed as a politician with rational arguments and create a stronger country on the basis of rational arguments that would give me a sort of hope for the future. So, that hope was a good note to end the book on.

DIONNE: Did the experience of writing the manuscript and interacting with Merkel affect you as a scholar and writer?

MATT: When you sit down to start writing about someone, you always sort of have an approach in mind and you always sort of believe that you know everything. Well, I had to revise my opinions on a number of occasions and I think, in that sense, it was humbling for me to write. I realized that many of the things that I thought I knew — having studied German politics for decades — I had gotten wrong.

One of the things I did in my interactions with her office was to say I’m not writing an official biography. There is an official biography, that you mentioned, and I didn’t particularly like it. I thought it was almost sycophantic and it was a bit too we’re not worthy. On the other hand, there have been other pieces written about her that are incredibly critical. When I communicated with her office and the press spokesperson in particular, I said, I’m writing this book and I’ll be happy for you to review it and factually correct me if I’m wrong. They didn’t end up having any objections, which I suppose, from my perspective, was good though it could be because I’d written bland things. [Laughter] It’s a journey of discovery to write any book, especially when you’re writing about somebody who’s still alive, who's living and breathing and talking and acting in a different part of the world. It’s incumbent upon you to be incredibly truthful about that particular person. I think the other thing that is important for me, as a historian, was that I wasn’t interested in writing a hero-worshipping kind of thing about her.

Another thing it made me realize — if I can talk about my own personal journey — is that politicians nowadays are part of a team. When I started I had this idea that individuals can’t really do much in history. It’s all stock markets and all these sorts of structural factors. But, having written this book about her, and knowing that she’s part of a team, the thing that struck me the most was that, but for her, the world would have been very different. In a wider philosophical sense — now I’m getting all high-brow — it is interesting to me that individuals can still play an important role in history. I’m quite fascinated by the great women theory of history, the idea that great individuals sometimes can nudge historical development in a particular direction. If, in fact, the likes of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, can be nudged in a different direction by a woman who really does her homework, I would find that very interesting.

DIONNE: If there’s one message you would like your readers to take away from this manuscript, what would that be?

MATT: I think the word merkeln and the fact that you can be a rational politician and accomplish much through the quiet drafting of policies rather than just coming out with great statements about things that cannot or should not be done. If leaders followed that advice, I think we would have much more trust in democracy. It’s interesting that people in Germany have a higher level of trust in the political system, mainly because politicians just do what they’re supposed to do.

I suppose another thing I would like readers to take away from the book is that Germany has often been the home to the most evil people in history. And I find it interesting — I suppose as a German speaker, there’s an element of patriotism here — but I find it interesting that Germany has now returned to being a country of reason and compassion and if one wants to look at a country for an alternative way of doing things, Germany might be one of them. To quote Brecht again, he says, “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” And then “No, Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.” I think Angela Merkel is an anti-hero in a way, a politician who has become great because she has not followed the traditional way to greatness and has said I’m just a research scientist who is using my skills as a researcher to conduct public policy.

Predominantly I’m a scholar and an author and I think at the end of the day I write about something because it’s a great story, it’s a great narrative, and we all like to read great stories. And her life, really, as I see it, has almost been like a bildungsroman, a novel that chronicles the development and story of an individual, in this case a great individual, who’s had an incredibly interesting life, somebody who people tried to recruit to become a spy, somebody who has struggled personally in many ways and then was able to pull through because she had tenacity and ultimately believed in the right values.

Of course, I would also like people to be entertained and to feel that they haven’t wasted their time reading my book. It’s coming out in a paperback now with an update since the election of Donald Trump, if I can just throw that in there for a bit of advertising.

DIONNE: I will speak this for you. There will likely be a sequel. With regards to her leadership, what do you think you might be writing then?

MATT: I think somebody said that all political careers end in failure. I’m not sure hers will end in failure. I think probably most political careers end in defeat and then a little while after we probably realize that the individuals who we considered to be failures were actually rather good. When you’re writing a book, you try to take your cues from everywhere so I looked at a number of American biographies. I read what people said about Harry S. Truman in 1953, which was that this was probably the worst American president ever. Then, 40 years later, people were saying no, actually, this guy had foresight with the Marshall Plan and he stood up to the Soviets. Basically he went from being a C grade to being an A-star grade.

I don’t think Angela Merkel will be seen as a C grader when she steps down. Though, it’s conceivable she will lose the election in September this year [2017] and will have to step down, and then people will say so much for that and now she’s a loser. I think in five years’ time it might be that she’s a bit battered and she will probably step down within five years’ time and it might be a bruising experience for her. So, in five years’ time, perhaps the verdict on her won’t be quite as positive, but I think in ten years’ time or still more in fifteen, or in fifty, people will say that she was a turning point at a very crucial time in world history, or modern world history at least.

At the moment democracy is having this struggle between people who have the simple solutions and the simple answers and people who say, actually, democracy is stronger because we have the ability to have an open debate about very important issues. I hope people will look back and say, it’s good that we had her at that particular time because without her as a sort of antidote to the likes of Putin and other politicians, there really is no way of telling where we would be. I think she will succeed in pulling Europe together in some way, though probably without the United Kingdom, which may or may not be good for my country, but I think she will ultimately make Europe stronger and I think in fifty years’ time people will look back at her and say that she was probably one of the most important leaders in this century.

DIONNE: My final question is this, what would she say to aspiring woman politicians or female leaders, women who aspire to leadership? What sort of advice might she offer the new generation of leaders who are coming along?

MATT: I think the advice would be to be yourself and know yourself. Identify your weaknesses and work to overcome them. Strength starts from having a realistic appraisal of what your strong points and your weaknesses are. She would also advise them to have a thing you can believe in. In her case, it was innovation and a stronger and more tolerant country. You need a very clear focus on where you want to go. In her case it’s what she calls the social market economy, you could also call it the tolerant social market economy. It’s a capitalist political system, which also recognizes that the market cannot solve everything and that trickle-down economics doesn’t always work. In addition to having that clear focus and clearly-defined idea early on, you also need steely determination. I think she would also tell women not to try to be like blokes, as we call them in Britain. Don’t try to be men, don't try to be more macho than the male politicians. That may have worked for Margaret Thatcher, but not in this day and age.

I think the advice she would give to aspiring politicians and other leaders, whether male or female, would be know your homework, know your brief, and don’t get reactionary. Think a bit more like a chess player than as a prizefighter. Be in it for the long haul. Realize where you want to go and slow down a little bit. Look up, take stock, and analyze if you’re going the right way down the street. Be prepared and willing to compromise if it helps achieve your goal.

Interestingly, most of the people who they’re talking about as possible successors in her own party are all women. It’s almost being seen as a given that her successor should and will be a woman. I don’t think she would necessarily want that herself. She will be a tough act to follow.

DIONNE: Matthew, brilliantly said. Thank you. Angela Merkel, Europe’s Most Influential Leader, an entertaining, informative, and brilliantly-written manuscript. I appreciate your time and thank you for sharing her story. I look forward to seeing what you do next!

MATT: Dionne, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me and for your thoughtful questions.