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New German Chancellor Brings Strengths to Difficult Assignment

The German parliament elected Angela Merkel as the country's new Chancellor last week. Amy Katz takes a closer look at the first woman to lead a post-World War II German government and what impact her leadership may have in Europe and beyond.

Angela Merkel, of Germany's conservative Christian Democratic Union political party -- or C.D.U. -- took office on November 22nd after the parliament elected her to be chancellor. It came after two months of wrangling between the C.D.U. and its rival political party -- the Social Democratic Party -- or S.D.P -- in the wake of September’s election, in which neither party's candidate for chancellor won a majority of the votes.

Ultimately, a rare, power-sharing arrangement was worked out between the two parties and Ms. Merkel was made chancellor. But, half of her cabinet ministers are members of the opposition S.D.P. Will the coalition government be able to accomplish anything?

The Executive Director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Jackson Janes, says he doubts the coalition itself will last more than four years.

"Over the next 4 years they're going to pick and chose their issues that they can agree on and there may not be many, but if there are some that are worthwhile, then they will actually get something done," he said.

Stephen Szabo, of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C., says the coalition will force the parties into constant bargaining to get anything done -- which means Ms. Merkel will not be as effective a leader as she would like to be.

"On the other hand she's chancellor, she's the first women chancellor, she's the first East German chancellor,” he pointed out. “She will get a lot of bonus from that and I think she will grow in the office over the next 6 months to a year."

Mr. Janes added, "She has the ability to bridge things because she's unique, because she's new, and because of the fact that she's a person that people are curious [about] and expecting things from. She's not a run-of-the-mill politician, if you will, in the German political establishment. And that's why people might just give her more benefit of the doubt than perhaps others would get."

Dr. Szabo says Chancellor Merkel's background colors her opinions of actions taken by her predecessor -- Gerhard Schroeder.

"I know that she does have a feeling that Schroeder made a big mistake by forming an alliance with France and Russia against so-called new Europe, against Poland and the countries that supported the Bush administration during the war. And from that point of view, she clearly wants to move away from this close link to Moscow and Paris and to be more sensitive to the concerns of smaller countries, not just the emerging new countries, but even countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, older countries in the EU itself," said Dr. Szabo.

Jackson Janes says, having lived under the repressive East German government has given Ms. Merkel has a strong sense of what freedom means.

"In that respect, I think that she comes to this office with a perspective that is also unique in that respect, toward Russia, toward the Ukraine, toward Eastern European states, toward countries that are searching for a new form of government for themselves. I think she'll be able to relate to that in a very biographical way."

Dr. Janes also says Chancellor Merkel wants to repair Germany's relationship with the United States, which was damaged in the dispute over going to war with Iraq. There is evidence that she is already trying to achieve that goal. Just a week after taking office Germany's new Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, was in Washington Tuesday meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.