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Germany's Merkel suffers third bout of shaking during ceremony

German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Brussels on July 2, 2019.

GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/BLOOMBERG

By ARNE DELFS AND PATRICK DONAHUE | Bloomberg | Published: July 10, 2019

For the third time in less than a month, Chancellor Angela Merkel had to downplay concerns that health issues could affect her leadership ability at a time that Germany's economy is slowing and her coalition is wobbling.

Merkel, who turns 65 next week, was seen trembling and biting her lip as she stood alongside Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne during a ceremony in Berlin on Wednesday. At a press conference with Rinne shortly after, a calm and composed Merkel said she was doing fine and still mentally working through what happened during the first episode of shaking on June 18.

"I've already said that I need to work through this event and that I'm in this process — and I think that it will go away one day just as it arrived, but it's not there yet," she said referring to the first trembling incident that occurred last month during a ceremony on a hot afternoon. "Beyond that, I'm firmly convinced that I'm very well capable."

Yet there was renewed skepticism over Merkel's psychosomatic explanation and calls grew stronger for more transparency in regard to her health. "Should the chancellor tell us how she really is doing?" read a headline on the homepage of Bild, the country's largest newspaper. Speculation in the German press for possible causes of her ailment ranged from low sugar levels and early stages of diabetes to neurological problems stemming from high stress and exhaustion.

"That won't work for much longer," Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at the Free University in Berlin, said in reference to the official line on her health situation. "The terse statement 'I'm fine' gradually doesn't work anymore."

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Questions over her well-being arise as Germany's economy is losing steam and relations within the governing coalition are strained. Last year, Merkel gave up her role as leader of the Christian Democrats and plans to leave politics after her term as chancellor ends with the next national election, slated for 2021. The two leading coalition partners, including the Social Democrats, did poorly in European elections in May, putting further pressure on the coalition.

Still, following the first two bouts of shaking, Merkel shuttled to Japan and back for the Group of 20 summit and attended overnight marathon negotiations in Brussels over European Union top jobs. "I am feeling very well, and there is no reason for concern," she said on Wednesday.

Merkel has had several similar episodes previously. The latest round began on June 18, Merkel shook noticeably during a ceremony with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Then, she said it was the result of not drinking enough water. In subsequent days, she appeared to be fine, joking about the incident. The second episode over a week later, which occurred indoors, she tried to explain as a psychological effect related to the earlier incident.

Merkel is in her 14th year as chancellor.

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