Angela Merkel

Tony Barber

Ask a German politician or pundit to account for the strength of Germany’s economy. I’ll bet you a plate of Nürnberger sausages that he or she will praise the labour market and welfare reforms adopted about 10 years ago by the government of Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s predecessor.

The “Hartz reforms” tightened the terms on which unemployed Germans claim welfare benefits. They laid the emphasis on putting people quickly back into jobs, at lower pay if necessary. Nowadays German unemployment is remarkably low (5.1 per cent of the workforce in December 2013, according to Eurostat, versus 27.8 per cent in Greece, 25.8 per cent in Spain and 12.7 per cent in Italy).

However, some newly published research by four German economists challenges the argument that the Hartz reforms are the main cause of the nation’s economic recovery. Their carefully written study, entitled “From Sick Man of Europe to Economic Superstar: Germany’s Resurgent Economy”, should be required reading for everyone concerned with boosting the eurozone’s economic performance. Read more

Ronald Pofalla (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

By Stefan Wagstyl in Berlin

Controversial job-seekers have been making the headlines over the holidays in Germany. The debate over EU immigration, sparked by the lifting of restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians, has been entirely predictable – and rather more civilised than, for example, in the UK.

More surprising have been reports of a possible new posting for Ronald Pofalla, chancellor Angela Merkel’s former chief of staff, who quit in December saying he wanted more time for his private life.

There was some sympathy then for the twice-divorced 54-year-old’s plans to start a family with his 32-year-old girlfriend and an understanding that he would, at some point, find work in industry – perhaps in the coal sector in his home region of North Rhine Westphalia. Read more

Tony Barber

Critics of Germany’s actions in the eurozone debt and banking crisis often berate Angela Merkel, the Christian Democrat chancellor, for lacking a “vision” for Europe. Not me. I am with Helmut Schmidt, West Germany’s plain-spoken Social Democrat chancellor from 1974 to 1982, who once said that people who have visions should go and see a doctor.

What is the view of Mario Monti, the distinguished former European Union commissioner, who worked closely with Merkel during his 17-month spell as Italy’s prime minister from November 2011 until last April? Monti now chairs a committee on promoting a united Europe at the Berggruen Institute on Governance, a non-partisan think-tank headquartered in California. I contacted him earlier this week in Milan, and as usual his thoughts were perceptive and full of common sense (and quite long sentences). Read more

♦ The FT’s Neil Buckley interviews Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Russia’s most famous prisoner – a former oligarch who dared to cross Vladimir Putin.
♦ Trade has broken from a 30-year trend of growing at twice the speed of the global economy, pushing economists to wonder whether there has been a fundamental shift in world business.
♦ The Palestinians have called on countries to tell companies linked to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to withdraw immediately because the settlements violate international law.
♦ Mark Carney says the Bank of England is open for business and the days when the Old Lady preached the perils of “moral hazard” without due regard to financial pressures are well and truly over.
♦ The allegation by the German government that the NSA monitored Angela Merkel’s mobile phone has set off recriminations behind the scenes in the US.
♦ The NYT looks at the friction point between the Philiippines and China in the South China Sea, reporting from a ship at the dividing line.
♦ Formula 1 is considered entertainment, not a sport, by the Indian government, while chess is considered to be a sporting event.
♦ There is some disbelief over Al-Sisi mania.
♦ Tony Blair in the the Balkans to deliver some “deliverology”.
 Read more

Gideon Rachman

If the Americans really have been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone, perhaps they can pass some political tips onto the White House. For Barack Obama, in common with most other western leaders, would dearly love to learn the secret of the German chancellor’s success.

Just consider some comparative approval ratings. Mr Obama currently hovers somewhere in the mid-40s. In Britain, David Cameron hit 37% after a successful party conference and has almost certainly sunk back a little after a bad week, in which he was bested over high energy costs by Labour’s Ed Miliband. Meanwhile, bringing up the rear is Francois Hollande, whose approval rating in France is down at a pathetic 23%. By contrast, the German chancellor has a personal approval rating of around 70%. Read more

Merkel's love for her mobile began early on (JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)

Gaining access to the personal communications of the leader of any country would be a highly valued prize for an intelligence agency.

But accessing chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone, as Germany strongly suspects the US has done, was a coup indeed. Read more

By Thomas Hale
♦ The Wall Street Journal looks closely at Janet Yellen and the ‘tougher tone’ she may bring to the Fed.
♦ Meanwhile, Roger Cohen ponders Merkel’s election success and her role as the ‘great consolidator’.
♦ Iranian Qassem Suleimani, a supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, has been described as the most powerful operative in the Middle East today. The New Yorker profiles this elusive figure.
The demographic for budget travel is changing – the New York Times looks at business people in hostels.
♦ Christian Caryl’s book Strange Rebels suggests that the 21st century was heavily moulded by the pivotal events of 1979. David Runciman’s review in the LRB is an exhilarating analysis of the future for progressive politics.
♦ Are the lines between the natural and artificial worlds becoming blurred? Sue Thomas expounds on the fascinating notion of technobiophilia in Aeon magazine.
♦ The New York Times looks closely at China’s forays into Central Asia, specifically their recently acquired share in Kazakhstan’s oil.
♦ Paul Mason, writing for Channel 4, weaves together Western intervention in the Middle East with the mercurial plot of HomelandRead more

By Gideon Rachman
When pundits analyse Angela Merkel’s political success, they tend to fall back on a few well-worn ideas. The German chancellor is said to be a cautious pragmatist, a scientist who proceeds through trial-and-error, a reassuring mother-figure, a natural politician with an instinctive rapport with voters. All these things are true. But they miss out one vital element. Ms Merkel is also a political visionary. In the midst of a sometimes terrifying currency crisis, she has redefined Germany’s relationship with the EU – on a new and more sustainable basis.

Philipp Rösler (Getty)

Four years ago your correspondent was treading the streets of Friedrichshain in east Berlin on German election day when an extraordinary number of locals told me they had voted for Germay’s pro-business Free Democratic Party. Read more

PETER ENDIG/AFP/Getty Images

By Alice Ross
As Germany’s national elections approach on Sunday, what are the core issues that voters are concerned about? Do voters really admire what Angela Merkel has done for the eurozone, or are they more concerned about domestic issues like energy prices or the minimum wage? Read more