Italy also knows “Mutti”: On the roller coaster with Angela Merkel

The feelings of the Italians for the German long-term chancellor were a constant rollercoaster. Outrageous rejection followed with unqualified respect. As a farewell, a book tries to explain “the unexpected”.

In Italy, too, one wonders, not without worry, what will become of Germany and the EU, now that Angela Merkel is no longer in charge. As for the Italians’ feelings towards the Chancellor, they can be compared to a roller coaster. An almost limitless respect could be followed overnight by total rejection. Sometimes the Italians wanted Rome to have a head of government who would govern just as “Teutonically” as the Chancellor, who had her troops firmly under control. Sometimes she became the hated top of the class, whose aim was to subjugate and Germanize the entire EU.

Words like “homework” were part of everyday vocabulary in Italy in times of crisis. Nicknames for Merkel such as “Kohls Mädchen” and later “Mutti” were also adopted by the Italian media, thankfully, because they could add a little color to the reporting from Berlin.

“The Unexpected”

Journalist Tonia Mastrobuoni has written a book about the Chancellor so that it is not so difficult for the Italians to say goodbye. It is entitled “L’inaspettata”, the unexpected – a term that Merkel confidante and former Federal Minister of Education Annette Schavan used in an interview with Mastrobuoni. It couldn’t be more suitable, because more than unexpected was not only Merkel’s rise, but also her political talent.

Mastrobuoni, Germany correspondent for the Italian daily “La Repubblica”, portrays Merkel not only from an Italian perspective, but also from a female one. A certain solidarity is indisputable when she reports on the Andean Pact, whose all male members had already joined forces in the late 1970s – and which, nevertheless, could not prevent Merkel’s rise and fall. The members of the Andean Pact were also behind the attempted coup against their candidate for chancellor in 2002. How Merkel prevented this with the legendary Wolfratshauser breakfast in Edmund Stoiber’s home, “was a real political feat,” as the author writes. Years later it was the sociologist Ulrich Beck who summed up this style with the term “Merkiavellism”.

What should be known primarily to German readers is sometimes an overdue correction from an Italian point of view. “It is not true that Merkel just stumbled into politics after the fall of the Wall,” writes Mastrobuoni. She had asked around in the months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, but was not tied to anything. With regard to the “patricide” of Helmut Kohl, she distances herself from the current judgment: “Merkel is portrayed as an ungrateful protégé with a dagger under her robe. One underestimates the drama of those weeks that preceded Kohl’s inglorious end.” Too seldom is it about exploring Kohl’s immense guilt for the whole thing and the panic that had gripped the CDU. The Italian model for Merkel was a warning here: In Italy the corruption scandal “Tangentopoli” had swept away the Christian Democrats. The CDU had to fear that something similar was now flourishing.

Mastrobuoni does not hold back with criticism of Merkel and scratches the image of the Chancellor with well-known and not always flattering nicknames. Terms like “procrastinator” and “physicist of power” are diabolical tongue twisters for the Italian, but translated everyone knows what is meant by them. Merkel’s way of dissecting every problem down to the smallest detail before making a decision, “has not always proven to be the best way,” says the book with reference to the financial market crisis, the rescue of Greece and the euro crisis. which robbed the EU of sleep from 2008 to 2012.

The power politician

Merkel hesitated, especially in the EU. When it came to her position of power in Germany, she was very capable of making quick decisions, says Mastrobuoni. “What nobody knew back then, at the beginning of October 2008, was that the Chancellor, who slowly and reluctantly showed herself to take action on the European stage, tackled the crisis in Germany at lightning speed and passed two generous stimulus packages.” And everything has been done to get the green light from the EU for the billion dollar rescue package of the German credit institutions. Years later, the Italian journalist recalls, Rome knocked on Brussels’ door with the same request, but was refused. An incident that remains a sore point for the Italians to this day and which at the time already exacerbated the already great displeasure with Merkel and her austerity policy.

While Merkel moves tactically on an international level, she often lets the public chase her at home. For Mastrobuoni, proof of this is the Japanese nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011. Only six months earlier, Merkel had pushed through the extension of the service life of the nuclear power plants in Germany – after Fukushima she abruptly reversed this. From this perspective one could also evaluate their decision to open the gates to the migrants who wanted to cross the Balkans to Europe and especially to Germany in the late summer of 2015. On this issue too, society put pressure on her to finally go to a reception center herself. Mastrobuoni recalls the incident with the refugee girl the previous July, the clumsy response from the Chancellor that made it cry, and the nickname “Ice Queen” that she was given afterwards. In addition to empathy and solidarity, she believes that public opinion has certainly also led to her decision to take in the migrants and to proclaim “we can do it”.

The bottom line is that Mastrobuoni’s judgment of Merkel is positive, even if you read it through the lines. Ultimately, it leaves it to the reader to form an opinion based on the facts and events brought to mind. And so, where the Chancellor retires, her Italian rollercoaster ride could come to a harmonious end with this book.

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