Tony Paterson: Germans pine for a stronger leader

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The Independent Online

Ever since the trauma caused by a certain Alsatian dog-lover with a toothbrush moustache, the Germans have had their difficulties with the notion of a strong leadership.

The post-war federal system ensures that political power remains as decentralised as possible and even the term Führer has been all but eradicated from everyday use – although stripped of Nazi contamination, the word simply means "leader".

Gradually, however the collective aversion to macho behaviour at the top appears to be waning. In fact the public is beginning to clamour for it. A poll was conducted last week on the performance of the country's conservative President, Christian Wulff. The head of state caused an almighty kerfuffle within his own party earlier this year by insisting that Muslims were a part of Germany. Not long afterwards his colleague, Angela Merkel went out of her way to set the record straight by insisting that multi-culturalism had "failed". Yet 80 per cent of those polled about Wulff thought that he should show " more edge".

This demand for authoritative leadership is visible elsewhere. Helmut Schmidt, the 92-year-old, chain-smoking former Social Democrat Chancellor is enjoying revival as a sort of Teutonic Confucius. His opinions on everything from nicotine consumption to Greek bailouts are widely popular, respected and provided weekly by the country's Die Zeit newspaper in a column endearingly entitled "A cigarette with Helmut Schmidt".

A leading political commentator for Germany's liberal Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper has just taken pining for strong leaders a stage further. On Saturday, he published a whole page bemoaning the fact that former "Unification Chancellor" Helmut Kohl was no longer actively engaged in politics: "I would never have believed that I would miss Helmut Kohl so much. Kohl didn't understand much about economics, but he knew a great deal about Europe."

The surge in demand for robust leadership no doubt has its roots in the perceived lack of it being shown by the first female Chancellor of Germany. In Greece last week, her government was being called " Nazi" for the tough terms imposed on the bailout, but in Germany it is viewed increasingly as an inept administration heading for defeat. Opposition parties are even predicting that it may fall before the next scheduled general election in the autumn of 2013. Considering that Germany stands almost alone in Europe with its booming economy, the government's lack of popularity is extraordinary. If an election were held tomorrow, Merkel's government would be ousted instantly by a coalition of Greens and Social Democrats.

Merkel's career as Chancellor started brilliantly, but the rot began during the first round of the euro crisis last year. Instead of talking up the advantages of the single currency, she buckled under hostile public opinion, dithered, and failed to allay voters' fears that on Greece, they were being forced to throw good taxpayers' money after bad. The second euro crisis has helped confirm this impression. After giving in to French demands and dropping her insistence that private banks should be obliged to help in the bailout, the Chancellor appeared driven by events rather than controlling them. "The balance sheet is miserable," wrote one commentator, "Merkel is failing to secure German demands in Europe and she has not succeeded in winning Germans over to the rescue of the Euro."

Toxic sex toys? Nein, danke!

The travails of Japan's Fukushima powerplant certainly drove Angela Merkel to make Germany the first major country in Europe to completely abolish nuclear power. The decision was taken hurriedly and on the back of a wave of public sympathy for the Green party, which shows little sign of subsiding. However, the Chancellor's unexpected policy U-turn has temporarily robbed the Greens of one of their most important hobby-horses (it is hard to "outgreen" a total nuclear shutdown). The environmentalist party has been suffering in other ways too: it has had to sack one of its key election campaign managers in Berlin after he was caught drunk-driving and tried to run away from the police. Further embarrassment was heaped on the party after police discovered that the window boxes at an east German Green party headquarters, were stuffed full of cannabis plants.

A diversionary headline was badly needed. Now the party appears to have found one in the form of toxic dildos, vibrators and other assorted sex toys. The Greens claim to have found hard evidence that these appliances often contain unacceptably high levels of carcinogenic substances which could threaten those who use them. It has submitted a paper to the government called "sexual health as a consumer protection issue" and is demanding a full inquiry.

The awesome victories of football's valkyrie

If the sportswriters are to be believed, Germans in search of a true modern leader need look no further than Ms Silvia Neid, the 47-year-old trainer of the national women's football side which is performing so auspiciously at this year's current German-hosted FIFA Women's World Cup. Ms Neid is only 5ft 5ins tall, but she has blonde hair, steel blue eyes and most of the time wears an awesomely determined look on her face. She rates as Germany's most successful female footballer and as a trainer already has a string of national victories under her belt including the 2009 European Championship. "With her charm and leadership qualities, she seems to have everything under control and takes her team to victory with manifest sovereignty," is how one commentator described her. Angela Merkel is one of her fans. She must be jealous.

t.paterson@independent.co.uk

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