Friday, August 7, 2009

Leadership makes a difference, especially in times of crisis

It is a well known phenomenon that people feel the need of a strong and steady leadership in times of a crisis. In this sense the current crisis may open a window of opportunity for the election campaigns of the governing parties, first and foremost for Chancellor Angela Merkel. A large majority is satisfied with Merkel’s performance in these days. When it comes to the so-called “K-Question” (Kanzlerfrage) she is clearly in the lead: If people had the chance to decide directly who should become the next chancellor, 62 percent would vote for Merkel, but only 25 percent would prefer Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Politbarometer July 2009).

Merkel has achieved a reputation to be a strong leader, at least in the view of the broad public. This development is quite interesting, if one remembers the fact that public opinion was rather sceptic about her abilities to lead when she came into office. Moreover, she had to defend herself against criticism on her leadership style throughout her chancellorship. Prominent figures from her own ranks repeatedly doubted her ability and competence to lead the government. And what might be even more important: The parliamentary party as well as the party on the ground felt more and more uncomfortable with her adaptive leadership style.

Nevertheless Merkel’s leadership seems to be strong in comparison to the leadership deficit of the SPD. Despite the fact that Steinmeier is widely respected in his role as minister of Foreign Affairs he still lacks a profile as a party leader and the potential chancellor. The perpetual struggles over the leadership of the SPD have severely damaged the image of the party. In a sense, the personnel seem to be worn out after more than ten years in government. This is one of the reasons why Steinmeier presented a “campaign team” with new faces.

In the end, much will depend on Merkel’s ability to keep the distance to Steinmeier throughout the campaign. Her lead seems more than comfortable at this point, albeit it is not all clear to what extent the CDU/CSU will benefit from her popularity. Another come-back of the SPD – comparable to the 2005 election campaign under Gerhard Schröder’s leadership – is not very likely. Although a lesson can be learned: The race will not be over before election day, September, 27th.
Manuela Glaab

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