Mr and Mrs Popularity will meet again today in Auckland when German Chancellor Angela Merkel jets into town to meet Prime Minister John Key.

Mrs Merkel is about the only leader in the Western world with similar approval ratings to Mr Key. After almost nine years as Chancellor, she still polls between 60 and 70 per cent. She won a third four-year term in Germany's 2013 elections - giving the 60-year-old until 2017 in power. Her nickname is "Mutti" - an affectionate word for mother.

By contrast Mr Key is sometimes more an embarrassing uncle. When it comes to power he is a mere country mouse.

But in terms of style the pair have more in common than being able to manage under the MMP electoral system.


Both are benefiting from a perception they provide stable leadership in economically testing times, although they took different approaches, given Mrs Merkel's advocacy for austerity measures.

German economist Oliver Hartwich, who heads the NZ Initiative, points to the focus on Mrs Merkel's leadership in Germany's 2013 election.

The "Merkel Rhombus" is a hand gesture so famous it has its own Wikipedia entry. In the 2013 election, her Christian Democratic Union Party put up a huge billboard featuring only her hands in that position.

"It was to demonstrate the safest pair of hands," Dr Hartwich says. "That's why she has stratospheric approval ratings.

"She does not do inspiring rhetoric - her speeches are as boring as they get. She is so down to earth, so unpretentious, so frankly boring at times that she gives the impression everything is fine and they can trust her, leave her alone with the country and governing it."

Hence her party's focus on her last year - a technique echoed this year by National's "Team Key" campaign.

Dr Hartwich says Mrs Merkel contrasted with Gerhard Schroder, her predecessor. "Gerhard was an alpha male, very dominant, macho. So they felt safe with her."

Both are pragmatist centre-right leaders, willing to bow to the public mood even where that goes against their own political position. Just as Mr Key kept key Labour policies such as Working for Families, Dr Hartwich points to Mrs Merkel's abrupt u-turn on nuclear power plants after the Fukushima crisis.

He says he likes her unpretentious style but her political positions do tend to change according to expediency. "Merkel keeps her [principles] very close to her chest. I'm still trying to find out where she stands after all these years."

He is also sceptical about whether she really has steered Germany into a healthy economic position.

Mr Key visited Germany in 2012 but the last German Chancellor to visit New Zealand was Helmut Kohl in 1997. Dr Hartwich says Mrs Merkel's visit is probably due to that 17-year gap between visits.

Mrs Merkel is on her way to the G20 in Australia. Dr Hartwich says Germany is more important to NZ than vice versa. It is our fourth largest trading partner but is itself more focused on Europe.

Mr Key describes Mrs Merkel as the most influential leader in Europe and last week Forbes put her at fifth on its "Most Powerful People" list. The magazine credited her for "acting the grown up on the global stage", citing her influence over Russia and Islamic State as well as Europe.

Mr Key plans to try to get Mrs Merkel on the case for free trade talks with Europe. Russia and Iraq will also be canvassed. Germany is looking at offering training for Iraqi troops and there is an option for NZ to join up with them if the option of working with Australia does not work out.