Two famous women, one impression?

merkel thatcherLorsque l’on demande aux Européens de citer la femme la plus influente dans le monde, la plupart répondent sans hésiter « Angela Merkel » ; lorsqu’il faut en nommer une autre, à ce moment-là, c’est « Margaret Thatcher ». L’une vient de mourir, l’autre d’être réélue triomphalement. Mais qu’ont-elles réellement en commun ?

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These two women who made history both came from relatively modest protestant families and defied male chauvinism first by studying to be scientists.

thatcher scientistThatcher, 1951

They were both the first female president of their conservative party and were regarded as hard workers. They both won three terms at the head of the government after several years as ministers. They both had a certain control over the policies and a strong influence on European policies with some common goals: defending their country’s sovereignty and fighting inflation.

angela-merkel-et-helmut-kohl-en-1991Merkel and Helmut Kohl, 1991

But they are different in so many ways. Angela Merkel is the daughter of a pastor who taught her Christian values. She has always defended social democracy and for her fighting poverty and wretchedness was as important as boosting growth. She got the honorific title of “Mother of Germany”, a proof that her people -even many of her opponents- like and respect her.

angela-merkel

Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper’s daughter, discovered the Victorian values of work, organization, effort and self-help as a young girl, which determined her convictions during her whole life. She defended liberal and conservative policies which have made the rich richer, the poor poorer and the United Kingdom as unequal as the USA. The Russians called her “the Iron Lady” and it became her title. She was not loved but widely respected. Her legacy is still acutely controversial.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister from Mai, 4th 1979 to November, 28th 1990. Her government presided over the hollowing out of British manufacturing and her deregulation of the London City led to the mushroom growth of “casino capitalism” and the financial bubble, which burst in 2008. Angela Merkel had to fight the last crisis. She took part in a lot of summits in order to introduce new financial regulations. She defended the German industry at times when outsourcing is less and less appreciated. Her country is doing significantly better than the other European countries, with a growth rate between two and four percent.

Angela Merkel and Margaret Thatcher both have shown that when a woman comes into power, she has to be harder than a man. But their leadership styles were widely different: Thatcher was a seductress who used her femininity to rule over all the men in her Cabinet, whereas Merkel has made an art out of leading from behind and being underestimated by her rivals. Thatcher enjoyed being the only woman in the room, and made it harder for other women to break the glass ceiling. Merkel on the other hand has improved Germany’s family policy to make it easier for women to get back to work once they have had children. Merkel’s leadership style may ultimately prove more effective: after her last victory, she is about to eclipse Margaret Thatcher as Europe’s longest serving elected female head of government.

Pierre DUTHILLEUL

 

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