German elections: Who is Angela Merkel?

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The East German-born former research scientist enjoys a lead in the opinion polls ahead of the vote

She has been called the "de facto leader of the EU" by some and is hoping to win a fourth term as German Chancellor.

Angela Merkel, a former physical chemistry research scientist, has been involved in German politics since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Here is a look at her career ahead of the German federal elections.

Who is she?

german-elections-who-is-angela-merkel photo 1 Image: Mrs Merkel from 1991 to 2013

Angela Dorothea Merkel, 63, is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and an English and Latin teacher and grew up in a rural town outside Berlin in what was then East Germany.

She became a spokesperson for the pre-unification caretaker government under Lothar de Maiziere, following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and was elected to the Bundestag the following year.

Mrs Merkel made an instant impact and served as minister for women and youth under Chancellor Helmut Kohl, before being promoted in 1994 to minister for the environment and nuclear safety.

After Mr Kohl was embroiled in a slush fund scandal his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party was defeated in elections in 1998, and Mrs Merkel was appointed as the secretary-general of the party.

german-elections-who-is-angela-merkel photo 2 Video: All you need to know about the German election

Two years later she took the helm of the CDU, the first female leader of a German party, and although she lost out to Edmund Stoiber on the chance to challenge Gerhard Schroder in the 2002 election, she finally became Chancellor three years later.

Mrs Merkel married Ulrich Merkel in 1977 when she was 23. They divorced in 1982 and she then married quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer in 1998.

What can we expect?

Angela Merkel is one of the arch proponents of the European Union and much of what she does focuses on strengthening European co-operation and international trade agreements.

Known for her pragmatism, she remains popular in Germany because she is seen as a safe pair of hands, and is affectionately known as "Mutti" or "mummy".

Two years ago, she was Time magazine person of the year after allowing refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria to settle in Germany - something which attracted strong criticism at home.

Who is backing her?

Seemingly the largest chunk of the electorate in Germany.

A poll at the end of August put her CDU party on 37%, with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) trailing by 14 points on 23%.

Mrs Merkel also enjoys good personal popularity ratings as she bids to secure a fourth term.

Only the first post-war chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer, who held the post from 1949 until 1963, had as high opinion polls going into his fourth term.

Did you know?

german-elections-who-is-angela-merkel photo 3 Image: Vladimir Putin brought in his dog into talks, despite Mrs Merkel's fear of the animals

Mrs Merkel has a fear of dogs after being attacked and bitten by one in 1995.

Russian President Vladimir Putin once allowed his black labrador into a meeting between the two leaders in the knowledge the German Chancellor was not fond of the animals.

:: German elections - Who is Martin Schulz?

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Article German elections: Who is Angela Merkel? compiled by news.sky.com