Whether or not her latest move is truly a change of mind or just a sly preparation for a future alliance with the Greens-which has become the agenda-setting party-her move isn't showing great results. Voters have viewed her turnaround with cynicism.
Ever since the 1970s, large parts of the German electorate have had an implacable (and mostly irrational) aversion to nuclear power. Despite the fact that the earthquake in Japan was on the other side of the world, the prevailing question in debates was what it meant for Germans. Rumours of panic-buying of Geiger counters turned out to be untrue, but it was somehow revealing that people were prepared to believe them. True, Germans are not the only ones who fear another Chernobyl. Italians recently voted overwhelmingly against Berlusconi's proposal to build new nuclear power stations. But this is very different from closing down a large industry that produces a quarter of Germany's electricity. And, by the way, Italy regularly suffers major earthquakes, most recently at L'Aquila in 2009; Germany doesn't.
One may interpret this existential angst as a form of concern for the world as a whole, but the tone in which Germans called for action suggested that it was more about safety in their own backyard. The mood is inward-looking, even reclusive. Hostility to nuclear power resonates with the mainstream of German society. Today, the Greens are on the upswing. This spring they humiliated Mrs Merkel in Baden-Württemberg, which her Christian Democrats had ruled for six decades, and in the city-state of Bremen. The stereotypical image of the bearded Green in a hand-knitted jumper has been replaced by that of the yummy mummy.
Ironically, while priding itself on the novelty of its self-confidence, Germany may be losing its grip. Every so often the moral certainty that Germany is behaving as well (or better) than its neighbours turns into self-centred hysteria. When that happens, instead of the politics of liberty and progress, we get the rhetoric of beansprouts and nuclear power plants.