HAVING BUSIED HERSELF with matters political for much of the day, Angela Merkel stopped off at Trinity College Dublin this afternoon for a unique appearance at the Philosophical Society or ‘The Phil’ as its known.
The German chancellor was in a relaxed mood alongside Taoiseach Enda Kenny in a packed room in the Graduate Memorial Building and, after opening remarks, she took some questions from the audience with Kenny contributing his tuppence worth too.
Opening the discussion, Kenny spoke about listening to young minds and said he detected a great sense of education and academic prowess in the room.
Indeed Merkel was quizzed on everything from her favourite book to the NSA allegedly tapping her phone. Here’s what we learned…
1. She loves Europe
Okay, no surprise there. Merkel spoke about the promises that Europe can give: peace, prosperity and freedom.
But she said the prosperity can only be achieved by ensuring that Europe does not fall behind the rest of the world, warning that the bloc is currently lagging behind the US and Asia when it comes to sectors like manufacturing.
Later, she praised the freedoms afforded by EU membership such as freedom of the press, travel and movement. “I will stand up for Europe,” she said. No doubts there.
Merkel with Kenny, TCD Deputy President Professor Linda Hogan and student Rosalind Ni Shuilleabhain, President of the Philosophical Society. Pic: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
2. She has a lot of respect for Ireland
It’s something which came up in her earlier remarks at the EPP and a press conference at Government Buildings, but the chancellor reiterated her respect for the work that Ireland has done in dealing with its economic crisis.
“I want to use this opportunity to congratulate you on how you dealt with with your economic crisis. I have every respect for the trials you have been through,” she told the audience.
3. There’s no secret to being a successful woman in politics
Merkel was asked about whether she had any advice for women given its International Women’s Day tomorrow. But she said that there are zero reasons why women can’t be as successful and as confident as men are in all spheres.
“A man who has been sitting for 40 years behind a desk may not be a successful as a woman who has children and then goes back to her professional life,” she said.
4. She’s not that worried about the NSA ‘tapping her phone’
Merkel was asked whether she was annoyed about the alleged tapping of her phone by the US National Security Agency. She responded: “I am actually much more interested with looking at what happens to all of the phones of the citizens.”
It led to some interesting remarks about the advances of technology and the extent to which people can be monitored now. She said that on a European level she wanted to see “strong protection of our personal and private life”.
Enda Kenny chipped in with an interesting remark about how extraordinary it is that from the moment you are born, a heel prick sample can be put on file and every single incident in a person’s life “is now contained in the cloud somewhere”.
5. The Crimea crisis is a concern
A Polish-born student asked Merkel about whether we need to be fearful of events in Ukraine. Merkel replied that she did not think so “in the sense of war and peace” but admitted that for countries such as Poland and the Baltic states, “this is something that happens in your own neighborhood”.
On the wider issue of extremism, Kenny made an interesting point about the need to listen to people. He pointed out that in a country as small as Ireland citizens have a lot of engagement with their politicians. “You get a good feel of the pulse of the country,” he said.
6. She is most influenced by the Bible
The final question was the simplest but arguably the best: What’s your favourite book? Merkel took a few moments to respond, clearly giving it some thought, before she said the bible has influenced her life the most.
Merkel also said she loved to read books about expeditions and Marie Curie when she was a child. Now, when she has time, it’s Dostoevsky and cookery books. She admitted that it’s hard to find that time, though she does watch crime television.