BERLIN – Angela Merkel owes her re-election for a third term as German chancellor partly to the success of another woman, her influential if discreet adviser, who observers say was the main driving force in helping propel Merkel to the top.
Celebrating her triumph on election night last month, Merkel thanked her famously media-shy husband Joachim Sauer, who appeared ready to melt into the background, well away from the podium, at the conservatives’ party headquarters.
Next to him stood the even more unassuming Beate Baumann, who has been at Merkel’s side since she entered politics from her previous life as a scientist at the beginning of the 1990s.
Nobody seemed to pay much attention to Baumann, whose shapeless trouser suit, lack of make-up and frumpy hairstyle are not a far cry from Merkel’s own previously less-groomed look before she became Germany’s first female chancellor.
Baumann received no public mention from Merkel on the night of Sept. 22.
But the 50-year-old, undoubtedly Merkel’s closest adviser, is one of the main forces behind the “Merkel magic” that resoundingly swept her back to the chancellery as the world’s most powerful woman.
As the head of the chancellor’s staff, she writes Merkel’s most important speeches and participates in strategic decision-making. Her role is also to set the tone and decide on key phrases uttered by the chancellor on certain issues.
Her office on the seventh floor of the chancellery in Berlin is close to that of her boss.
The two women rarely see each other outside of work and use the polite German form of “you” when addressing each other, even when they share a working supper at the chancellery, according to the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
“There’s no Angela without Beate and no Beate without Angela,” the Stern newsweekly commented.
“How can Angela Merkel stay chancellor? It’s the most important and, in fact, only question for Beate Baumann,” said Spiegel news magazine.
Obsessively discreet ‘Rasputin’
Baumann is reputedly the only member of Merkel’s inner circle who dares to openly give her opinion to the chancellor, or to criticize her. Insiders say Merkel bestows her trust in others sparingly.
One of Merkel’s biographers, the late Gerd Langguth, described how, in 1995, Merkel — then environment minister under Chancellor Helmut Kohl — came out of fruitless negotiations and burst into tears.
“Pull yourself together,” Baumann told her sternly, according to Langguth.
He also wrote that Baumann used to gesticulate and use sign language to give Merkel indicators during her early public appearances.
The obsessively discreet adviser has not made only friends along the way. “Rasputin,” “Royal Cobra” and “Cerberus” are apparently among her nicknames, according to Der Spiegel.
Former German President Christian Wulff, while head of the Christian Democrats (CDU) in Lower Saxony state, introduced Merkel and Baumann, who hails from the northern region and studied German and English.
At that time, Merkel had been made a minister by Kohl, keen to include a former East German in his Cabinet and burnish his renown as the chancellor of German reunification.
Within the conservative CDU, the two women set about gradually making their mark amid the party’s predominantly male, western and Roman Catholic membership — not without difficulty.
Merkel, a Protestant, and Baumann are both childless in a party that espouses family values.
Baumann, who like Merkel’s husband habitually declines interviews, became head of Merkel’s office at the CDU in 2000 before moving with her to the chancellery five years later.
She never accompanies the chancellor on foreign trips, except notably in October 2012 during her high-profile visit to crisis-racked Greece, when Merkel faced open protest on the streets of Athens.
In 2009, Der Spiegel reported that during a rare interview, Baumann had repeatedly said “I,” correcting herself to say “Merkel.”