Germany: Angela Merkel's Aspirations

Meet the (reflective) woman who stands likely to become Germany's first female leader

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Aides say her experience in East Germany helped shape her pro-market philosophy, while her scientific training, as one puts it, means she "thinks like a Westerner." If elected, Merkel will inherit an unemployment rate of almost 12%, the highest since World War II. Expect her to cut income taxes, raise the consumer tax and introduce labor reforms aimed at attracting more foreign investment. Relations with Britain and the U.S. could well improve; Schröder famously fell out with President George W. Bush over Washington's decision to invade Iraq. Merkel was against the war too but criticized Schröder for being too rigid.

In the previous election, in 2002, Schröder won a come-from-behind victory after trailing badly in the polls, thanks in part to his opposition to Bush on Iraq. This time he is questioning Washington's policy toward Iran--but isn't scoring the same political points. Merkel maintains a lead that would give her and her coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, a narrow majority. "History doesn't repeat itself, and if it does, it is only as farce," she told the German magazine Stern last week. Germans may in fact be ready for a change. And Angela Merkel--now that she has taken her time to think it through--is ready too. --With reporting by William Boston/Berlin, Ursula Sautter/Bonn and Regine Wosnitza/Templin

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