ANGELA Merkel, Germany's first female Chancellor, currently enjoys an 80 per cent approval factor among the German public. When her Christian Democrat party was elected last September she only just defeated her Social Democrat predecessor Gerhard Shroder and even two months ago her approval rating was no better than around 60 per cent. Her current popularity is hard to explain because she had to make many compromises in order to create the “Grand Coaltion” with her principal opponents and she faces strong opposition from trade unions worried about her reform plans for the static German economy. During his visit to Berlin on Thursday, Tony Blair may have been wondering where the secret of Angela Merkel's success is to be found. He found her to be of considerable help during his difficult days over the European Union budget last December and it may be that her ability to find common ground where none seems to exist is a particular strength. Certainly, in meetings with Presidents Bush, Putin and Chirac she has shown an impressive ability to speak frankly without causing offence. This quality could be particularly useful as the European Union faces difficult problems arising from its enlargement from 15 to 25 countries and as the international scene, especially in the Middle East, shows every sign of deteriorating. After his meeting in Berlin, Mr Blair spoke of Britain's links with Germany as an “alliance and friendship I hope, not a rivalry”. The concept that Germany and France together formed the “motor” of the European Union has always been a difficult one for Britain to accept. Nor has it always been a stabilising factor as differences emerged between those two countries. A period of stability in the leadership of the EU, shared between Britain, France and Germany would be greatly to the benefit of the organisation and Frau Merkel could be an important factor in creating and sustaining it.