BERLIN (AFP) ― German Chancellor Angela Merkel was injured in a fall while cross-country skiing in Switzerland, forcing her to stay off her feet and cancel meetings, her spokesman said Monday, just as her new government got down to business.
Taking reporters by surprise, Steffen Seibert said that Merkel, 59, had fractured her pelvis, requiring her to postpone two meetings with European leaders this week and also to cut back her schedule for the next three weeks.
However she would continue to work, mainly from home, after doctors advised that she remain lying down as much as possible, he said.
News of Merkel’s fall comes as her compatriot, Formula One legend Michael Schumacher, remained in a coma in a stable but critical condition after a serious downhill skiing accident in the French Alps on Dec. 29.
The chancellor injury “makes it necessary for her to lie down a lot for three weeks and/or use a walking aid,” Seibert said.
“She, therefore during this time, will concentrate on a few appointments at the chancellery and in Berlin and otherwise do her work at home,” he said, stressing that this did not mean she would be out of touch.
“It goes without saying that as chancellor, she is at work and both capable of acting as well as communicating fully,” Seibert said.
Merkel will maintain a couple of appointments this week, including leading Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, the first of 2014 for her new “grand coalition” government, expected to discuss, among other things, how to handle immigration from poor EU members Romania and Bulgaria.
But she has had to cancel a planned trip to Warsaw on Wednesday as well as receiving Luxembourg’s new prime minister Thursday, Seibert said, adding that new dates would be found for the talks.
Merkel planned to speak Monday by phone with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel “to personally once again convey to them by phone the reasons for the cancellation,” he said.
Merkel will not be returning to Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum in the plush ski resort of Davos later this month, but that was not due to her accident. The decision to forgo this year’s annual meeting had been taken beforehand, Seibert said.
The chancellor, who often goes cross-country skiing during her winter vacation, suffered the accident over the Christmas period while in the southeastern Swiss region of Engadin, which boasts top ski resorts such as St. Moritz.
After she fell, the injury was initially thought to be just painful bruising. But after her return to Berlin, doctors on Friday diagnosed a fracture in the pelvic area, Seibert said.
“She is now following the doctors’ advice in order to enable optimal healing,” he said.
Seibert did not give details about the incident, saying only that Merkel had fallen while cross-country skiing during her holiday, which ended December 30, and adding that he could not say whether others were involved.
However he said it was assumed Merkel was moving at a “low speed”. The injury was kept quiet for over a week until Seibert’s announcement at a regular government news conference.
Merkel was sworn in for a third term at the helm of Europe’s top economy on December 17 following her conservatives’ resounding victory in September elections.
But she was forced to seek a “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats after her previous junior partners, the Free Democrats, historically failed to win parliamentary seats.
She had had a relatively low profile, especially on the international stage, during the coalition wrangling, the longest government-building period since World War II, but political business resumed in earnest Monday after the end-of-year holidays.
However the Spiegel news weekly saw her injury as likely holding things up again for a while, with a top leadership huddle of her Christian Democrats late this week now postponed.
“The chancellor’s ski accident is slowing down the start of the ’grand coalition’,” Spiegel Online commented.
The coalition faces thorny and pressing issues such as fears raised by Merkel’s CSU Bavarian sister party of possible benefits abuse by Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, as well as Germany’s ambitious exit from nuclear power.
Merkel underwent a knee operation in 2011 which left her on crutches for several days.