End of an era: Germany’s Merkel bows out after 16 years

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Angela Merkel was assured a place in the history books as soon as she became the first female chancellor of Germany on November 22, 2005.

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Over the next 16 years, she was credited with raising Germany’s profile and influence, working to hold a fractured European Union together, managing a string of crises, and being a role model for women.

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Now that his nearly record tenure is coming to an end at the age of 67, with acclaim from abroad and lasting popularity at home, he leaves office. His designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take over on Wednesday.

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, is leaning nearly a week behind the longevity record set by her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, who led Germany during his 1982–1998 tenure. added again.

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While Merkel probably lacks a spectacular signature feat, the centre-right Christian Democrat came to be seen as an indispensable crisis manager and defender of Western values ​​in turbulent times.

He served with four US Presidents, four French Presidents, five British Prime Ministers and eight Italian Prime Ministers. His chancellorship was marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, Europe’s debt crisis, the 2015–16 refugee influx into Europe and the coronavirus pandemic.

“It cannot be denied that it has given Germany a lot of soft power,” said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund’s Berlin office in the United States. “Undoubtedly he has raised the image of Germany in the world.”

“When she first took the stage in 2005, a lot of people underestimated her, but her stature grew along with Germany’s role in the world,” said David-Wilp. Others in Europe and beyond “wanted more of an active Germany to play a role in the world – it could not necessarily have happened before it was in office.”

In a video message at Merkel’s last EU summit in October, former US President Barack Obama thanked her for “taking a high position for so many years”.
“Thanks to you, the center has weathered many storms,” ​​he said.

Merkel was a driving force behind EU sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and led hitherto incomplete efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution there. David-Wilp said he was considered “capable of negotiating with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin from the West”.

She was determined to advance multilateral solutions to the world’s problems, a principle she laid out last week at a military parade in her honor.

The global financial crisis and migrant influx “made clear how much we depend on cooperation beyond national borders and how indispensable international institutions and multilateral tools are to be able to meet the great challenges of our times,” Merkel said, adding that Recognizing climate change, digitization and migration.

The stance was a strong counterpoint to former US President Donald Trump, with whom he had a difficult relationship. In their first meeting at the White House in March 2017, when photographers shouted at him for a handshake, he quietly asked Trump “Do you want to shake hands?” But there was no response from the President, who looked further.

Merkel rejected being labeled as the “leader of the free world” during that period, saying that leadership never lays down to one person or country.

Nevertheless, he was seen as an important leader in the 27-nation European Union, noted for his stamina in hammering out agreements in marathon negotiating sessions.

“MS. Merkel was a compromise machine,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said recently. When talks stalled, she “mostly found something that unites us to move things forward.”

This was demonstrated in July 2020, when EU leaders struck a deal on an unprecedented 1.8 trillion-euro ($2 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund after a four-day summit.

At its 107th and final EU summit, European Council President Charles Michel told Merkel: “You are a monument.” A summit without him would be like “the Vatican without Rome or the Eiffel Tower without Paris”.

The appreciation of her counterparts was genuine, although there had been considerable friction over the years. Merkel always sought to keep the EU as tight as possible, but strongly defended Germany’s interests, clashing with Greece during the debt crisis and disagreeing with Hungary, Poland and others – unlike Germany – in Europe. To host the incoming migrants.

Merkel said she was leaving the EU “in a situation that certainly causes concern to me as well.”

“We have always been able to address many crises out of a sense of respect, striving to find common solutions,” she said. “But we also have a series of unsolved problems, and great unfinished tasks for my successor.”

The same is true at home, where her record – dominated by the crises she addressed and including a pandemic that is raging with renewed vigor as she steps down – is a mixed bag.

That leaves Germany with low unemployment and healthy finances, but with well-documented shortcomings in digitization – many health offices resorting to fax machines to transmit data in the pandemic – and in infrastructure, critics say. There was a lack of investment.

He made progress in promoting renewable energy, but also criticized it for being too slow on climate change.

After announcing in 2018 that she would not seek a fifth term, she failed to secure a smooth transition of power in her own party, which lost in Germany’s September election.

The governing coalition under Scholz says it wants to “venture more progress” for Germany after years of stagnation.

But the overall decision of the Germans appears to be favourable. During the election campaign, of which she was largely absent, Merkel’s popularity ratings surpassed that of her three potential successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in post-war Germany, she is leaving office at a time of her choice.

Merkel’s gestures and facial expressions sometimes offered a glimpse of her reactions that were beyond words. She once expressed regret that she couldn’t keep a poker face: “I’ve given up. I can’t do it.”

She was not intimidated by Putin’s style. The Russian president once brought his Labrador to a meeting in 2007 with Merkel, who later said she had “certain concerns” about dogs once bitten.

She was never the most glamorous of political operators, but that was part of her appeal – the chancellor continued to take non-flashy vacations, was occasionally seen shopping in supermarkets and lived in the same Berlin apartment as she did. Did it before taking the top job.

Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years, Merkel walks in with a legacy of breaking the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics – though she has also come under criticism for not working hard for more. has suffered. gender equality.

Obama said that “many people, girls and boys, men and women, have a role model they can look up to through challenging times.”

Former President George W. Bush, whose relationship with Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, soured over the US-led post-war protests in Iraq, said that “Angela came and changed it completely.”

“Angela Merkel brought class and dignity to a very important position and made very difficult decisions … and did so based on principle,” Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in July. He described her as “a kind leader, a woman who was not afraid to lead”.

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