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Is Angela Merkel the most powerful woman on earth?

To celebrate ExecutiveSurf’s expansion into Germany, we decided to offer you a crib sheet on the EU’s most populous country and #1 economy.

If you were to ask most people, who is the most powerful woman in the world, I suspect Michelle Obama would be the highest placed.

But her position is purely symbolic and anything she says and does will reflect on the president. So she will keep her arms toned, bring up the kids and grow organic produce.

Angela Merkel, on the other hand, has real clout; what she says goes; well at least as much as any other global leader.

Merkel has been chancellor of Germany for the last four years and Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy and biggest exporter of goods. She is important on a global scale, but tends to keep her head down.

In 2008, the Economist wrote an article saying it would be good for Germany and the world, if she had a higher profile.

In comparison to president Sarkozy of France and Gordon Brown, the UK’s world economic saviour, she has had little serious foreign press coverage. She seems to be happy operating in the background and is known to have a grasp of policy, as opposed to headlines.

Her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is in coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and this month’s federal elections have seen her against her own foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in an election she was expected to win, but which may result in a coalition.

She has a powerful role, but her critics say she was late to come up with a viable fiscal stimulus to counteract the current economic crisis, but there may be reasons for that.

Most European MPs have decried the laissez-faire attitudes of the free markets, but Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, has reasons to question increased state control.

The Economist said it might be a global economic problem, but that Germany, of all countries, needs to look at increased competition and liberalisation, if it is to escape and continue to prosper.

Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005 and she is popular with voters. She has a reputation for ruthlessness, but she is a woman, and women in business and politics in Germany tend not to get very far.

Forbes magazine named her the world’s most powerful woman, for the fourth time in a row. Hillary Clinton must be fuming and Merkel, like Oprah Winfrey, has had a Barbie doll named after her.

Merkel is no fashion model, but looks smart and must detest Berlusconi for the snub he gave her at the G20 meeting, keeping her waiting while he took a long mobile call. She also gave George Bush short shrift, when he rubbed her back at a G8 summit; he was warned not to touch her again.

She was subsequently embroiled in a sort of tabloid controversy, when she wore a low-cut dress and Germany realised their head of state was actually a woman.

She still wears considerably less make-up and hairspray than Berlusconi though.

Merkel bears comparison with Margaret Thatcher and as a protogée of Helmut Kohl, people were surprised when she signed a petition (on the front page of FAZ), condemning him for financial impropriety and calling for his resignation. She grew up in austere Eastern Germany and Thatcher was the daughter of a grocer. Both appeared unremarkable.

Merkel is by far the most respected politician in Germany and is more popular than her party. On the world stage, next to Obama, she is almost invisible, but it is certain she can call him any time of day or night. Whether she is a tactician or grand strategist, she is one of Europe’s most powerful leaders and the fact that she is a woman, makes her more symbolic.

Forbes’ most powerful women in the world list

1: Angela Merkel, chancellor. Germany.

2: Sheila Bair, chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. US.

3: Indra Nooyi, chief executive, PepsiCo. US.

4: Cynthia Carroll, chief executive, Anglo American. UK.

5: Ho Ching, chief executive, Temasek Holdings. Singapore.

6: Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive, Kraft Foods. US.

7: Ellen Kullman, chief executive, DuPont. US.

8: Angela Braly, chief executive, WellPoint. US.

9: Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive, Areva. France.

10: Lynn Elsenhans, chief executive, Sunoco. US.

Never heard of any of them…apart from,

Hillary Clinton (36), Michelle Obama (40) and Queen Elizabeth II (42).

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