Merkel under pressure

"Wunderbar," was Regina Seidel's response to Angela Merkel's maiden speech to parliament as the newly-elected German Chancellor. "If she puts into practice everything she said - and does it quickly, it's fantastic," said Ms Seidel, who runs Flemming Pehrsson, a company which provides number plate technology for the car industry. She thinks some individual policies in the programme of the new grand coalition government between Mrs Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will not help her company.

Changes to employment law, for example, will in her view make it harder to take people on for short-term projects. "But it's not the individual elements that are important, it's the package. If she can implement it as a package it will be good, and an improvement on the patchwork approach we've seen in the past. It's like in a business, you have to be able to get to grips with it all at once." Others were not convinced.

"Completely banal," was the verdict of Professor Albert Steinherr, of the German Institute for Economic Research. "It's like a letter to Santa, but Santa doesn't exist. We're waiting for concrete action. It's easy to say we want to be in the top three in Europe, but I'd like to know how."

However, he approved of Mrs Merkel's evocation of the pioneering spirit of the post-World War II era, which produced the German economic miracle. He believes more optimism could help get German consumers spending again. "Germans need more self-confidence, so in that sense it worked well as a communication, but it was a collection of teeny tiny steps that don't add up to anything," he said. The direction's right but it lacks guts." Lutz Erbring, of Berlin's Free University, agreed that the speech was short on detail, but felt it was important in setting the tone for the new government. "She emphasised the reform theme, but didn't lay out a reform agenda. A lot of the main reforms were postponed - pensions, health, tax are all down the road. But it's symbolic that she said 'We are going after a reform agenda'."

The German press has taken a generally warm stance to the speech. "Angela Merkel is no great performer, and there were no rhetorical fireworks, but the Chancellor found a deft and almost disarming manner," writes the Financial Times Deutschland.

"If you really want to start something new, you have to free yourself from old routines, habits and prejudices. Merkel managed that - rhetorically at least. Whether she can make concrete policies out of that has yet to be proven."

The left-leaning Sueddeutsche Zeitung, however, was lukewarm, describing the speech as "timid but successful". As far as policy is concerned, it believes, the former chancellor could have given the same speech. "But Schroeder's performance would have been different: more rhetorically elegant, peppered with soundbites, more gripping in the delivery and more statesmanlike in the approach." I.L.

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