Germany's modest Mutti Merkel is no Iron Lady Thatcher

Story highlights

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, heading into her third term, is the antithesis of a modern-day politician
  • She is modest and unassuming, and fondly called Mutti -- or mother -- by the German public
  • She is often compared the "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, but her style is quiet different
  • But it would be naive to assume Merkel wasn't as much of a political animal as her peers

Stepping on stage after leading her party to its biggest electoral triumph in decades, German Chancellor Angela Merkel almost seemed the antithesis of a modern-day politician.

Bouquet in hand and beaming broadly as the adoring crowd chanted "Angie, Angie," the 59 year-old looked more flattered than full of herself.

"This is a super result," she said. "I think we can all be proud."

It wasn't the royal "we" Merkel was referring to -- a mistake former British Prime Minister and so-called "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher once cringingly made -- but rather some 41.5% of German voters.

So much for those who say plainness precludes power.

Set to become only the third post-war chancellor to win as many terms in office, Merkel's speech was a modest affair compared with those of other three-term titans like former British PM Tony Blair.

For Merkel there was no vainglorious fist-thumping. No pie-in-the sky promises to move heaven and earth, to mend the economy and conquer child poverty.

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Instead, she thanked her husband and supporters and alluded to the challenges of forming a working coalition in the days to come.

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This is "Merkiavellism" at its best: Understated but achieving.

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And it's a strategy that is refreshing to watch.

After all, it's not often that voters favor consistency over charisma, especially during times of economic strain. Merkel's anti-ego approach has made her an unlikely icon of our times.

Comparisons with the "Iron Lady" are easy to make for a woman who regularly tops Time magazine's list of the world's most influential people and -- as the leader of Europe's richest nation -- holds huge sway over its finances.

But Merkel's modus operandi is different.

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She may not care enough, some say, for consensus and compromise. Despite that, one has the feeling her choices are born from personal conviction rather than point scoring.

A pastor's daughter from the country's former Eastern bloc, Merkel comes over as a moralist in the tawdry world of international government and its gargantuan egos -- perhaps unnervingly so. She's like the good student tucked away in the corner, who puts others to shame come exam time.

Such studied benevolence has served the chancellor well at home, where, despite being childless, she is revered for her soft, caring image, and fondly called "Mutti'' or "Mummy" by millions.

Then again, the relationship between mother and child can be one of love and hate, meaning for Frau Merkel there's no room for basking in glory, or for complacency. Targets must be struck.

READ MORE: Will Merkel practice what she preaches?

Relationships between Germany and its world partners can be just as fickle.

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And since politics is a world of smoke and mirrors, of illusions and delusions of grandeur, it would be naive to assume Merkel wasn't as much of a political animal as her peers. She has made mistakes and has been loath to admit she's wrong. But the upside of Merkel's subtle strategy is her errors are harder to spot in a government ruling under the radar.

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As elected chancellor of one nation in Europe she has extended her mandate way beyond its borders, dictating humiliating terms to Germany's bailed out neighbors and shying away from big foreign policy asks on Mali and Syria.

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Two terms of Merkel in charge may have shielded her country from the worst of the eurozone crisis. But with a widening gap between rich and poor "Angie" has her work cut out to rebalance her country's economy and raise low wages. Finding a way to keep Germany's factories running in the future without cheap nuclear energy is another question Merkel will eventually have to answer.

Merkel's second term left her nation strong but Europe more divided than ever. Her third term will require her to focus on reforms at home not abroad, much to the relief of the rest of the region.

But, again, expect Germany's first and favorite female leader to go about that quietly. Regardless of whether you espouse her policies, Merkel's victory over the weekend isn't just a win for her -- it's also a victory for substance over style.

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