On this International Women's Day, here's a thought about how we in the media describe the woman often called Europe’s most powerful politician: Angela Merkel.
It is doubtless more a comment on the sad lack of iconic female leaders in politics [or the media's unwillingness to recognise and celebrate them] that the English-speaking press is repeatedly comparing Germany’s chancellor to the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.
It would be churlish for me to point out which media are doing this.
But you need only go to Google News and type in "Iron Lady" and "Merkel" for the examples to pile up in the search results [and, yes, I know the comparision turns up on AJE’s website too. Ouch!]
The parallel is wrong-headed for three reasons.
One: Merkel is a staunch pro-European. Her mantra throughout the sovereign debt crisis has been “if the euro dies, Europe dies".
Thatcher, however, made it clear - most memorably in a 1988 blustering speech in Bruges denouncing a possible "European superstate" - that a more or less dead Europe was fine by her.
Two: Thatcher, insofar as an organised set of beliefs can be ascribed to her (and even her disciples disagree on what they are exactly), believed markets generally knew better than the politicians.
Merkel believes the opposite.
Throughout the eurocrisis she has repeated that the conflict, as she saw it, was a titanic struggle between profit-seeking speculators, who couldn’t care less if national economies are destroyed, or hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs and savings, and politicians, who are accountable to voters to prevent precisely such things from happening.
Three: the Iron Lady comparison, one supposes, is meant to evoke Thatcher’s brusque, my-way-or-the-highway manner.
While Germany has got its way in the medium-term of the eurocrisis, in the long term Merkel’s goal is in fact to give other countries more of a say by pushing for the institutions of a transnational democracy, including bodies to police national budgets with the sanction of a popular vote, possibly via national budgetary delegations joining deliberations at the European Parliament.
In this she is on a collision course with France, but that’s another story. The point is, she is ready to give back to Europe whatever power has been thrust onto Germany in the sovereign debt crisis.
I wish I could suggest alternative female role models to with which to compare (Indira Gandhi? Golda Meir? Gro Harlem Bruntland?).
Any suggestions, dear readers?