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Merkel, Angela

Merkel, Angela än´gĕlä mär´kəl [key], 1954–, German politician, b. Hamburg as Angela Dorothea Kasner. The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, she grew up in what was then East Germany. She trained as a physicist (Ph.D., Univ. of Leipzig, 1978) and worked (1978–90) as a quantum chemistry researcher at East Berlin's Academy of Sciences. Involved in the 1989 democracy movement, she joined the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and was elected to parliament in 1990. A protégé of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, she served under him as minister for youth and women (1991–94) and the environment (1994–98). After Kohl's defeat in 1998, Merkel became CDU secretary-general and, having distanced herself from her former mentor, she was elected party leader in 2000.

In the 2005 elections she led the CDU-CSU coalition to a narrow victory over the Social Democrats. No party, however, secured a workable plurality of seats, forcing the CDU-CSU into coalition with the Social Democrats. Merkel became chancellor, the first woman and the first E German after unification to do so. She remained chancellor after the 2009 elections when the CDU-CSU formed a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats. Her government's response to the effects of the post-2008 downturn in Germany and associated economic crisis in the eurozone in 2009–10 led to a loss of popularity at home and somewhat strained relations at times with harder hit European nations (especially when Germany enforced an austerity on Greece that also served to protect German banks that had contributed to the Greek economic crisis through irresponsible lending), but economic growth and low unemployment in Germany subsequently benefited the CDU-CSU.

In 2013 the CDU-CSU won again, but fell short of a majority and again entered into a coalition with the Social Democrats; Merkel remained chancellor. Coalition losses in 2017, resulting in part from a nationalist reaction against Merkel generally welcoming policies toward refugees in 2015, led to difficult negotiations for a new government. Ultimately Merkel re-formed the coalition with the Social Democrats in 2018 and secured a fourth term as chancellor. Subsequent losses by conservatives and Social Democrats in state elections, however, led Merkel to step down (2018) as CDU leader.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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