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


Angela Merkel was guaranteed a place in the history books as soon as she became Germany’s first female chancellor on 22 November 2005.

Over the next 16 years, she is credited with raising Germany’s profile and influence, working to keep a European Union Together they managed a series of crises and became role models for women.

Now, her record-breaking tenure is almost over as she leaves office at the age of 67 to garner acclaim abroad and enduring popularity at home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz is expected to take office on Wednesday.

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, is bowing to the life expectancy record held by her one-time mentor of about a week, Helmut Kohl who unified Germany during his term 1982-1998.

While Mrs. Merkel perhaps lacks a spectacular signature record, the centre-right Christian Democrats are seen as indispensable crisis managers and defenders of Western values ​​in turbulent times.

She has served alongside four US presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian prime ministers. Her position as prime minister has been marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, Europe’s debt crisis, the 2015-16 refugee influx to Europe and the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no denying that she has given Germany a lot of soft power,” said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the Marshall Fund of the United States. Berlin office. “Without a doubt, she has raised the profile of Germany in the world.”

David-Wilp added: “When she first appeared in 2005, a lot of people underestimated her, but she has grown in stature with Germany’s role in the world. play some role in the world – that might not have happened before she was in office, that’s for sure.”

In a video message at Mrs. Merkel’s last EU summit in October, former US President Barack Obama thanked her for “holding her high position over the years”.

“Thanks to you, the center has stood firm through many ups and downs,” he said.

Merkel has been the driving force behind EU sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and has spearheaded efforts so far unfinished to come up with a solution. diplomacy there. David-Wilp said that she is seen as someone who “can have a dialogue with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on behalf of the West.

She steadfastly pursues multilateral solutions to world problems, a principle she laid out at the parade in honor last week.

The global financial crisis and the influx of migrants “have made clear how dependent we are on cooperation beyond national borders and how indispensable international institutions and multilateral instruments are.” how to cope with the great challenges of our time,” said Merkel, identifying them as climate change, digitization and mobility.

That stance is a strong rebuttal to former US President Donald Trump, with whom she had a difficult relationship. At their first meeting at the White House in March 2017, when the photographers shouted for them to shake hands, she quietly asked Trump “do you want to shake hands?” but there was no response from the president, who looked ahead.

Merkel rejected being labeled a “leader of the free world” during that period, saying leadership never rested on one person or one country.

However, she is seen as a key leader in the unbelievably 27 EU countries, known for her stamina in persuading agreements during lengthy negotiating sessions.

“Multiple sclerosis. Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, spoke recently. When negotiations were blocked, she “almost found something that unites us to move things forward”.

That was on display in July 2020, when EU leaders reached an agreement on an unprecedented 1.8 trillion euros ($2 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund after a summit. a controversial 4-day peak.

At her 107th and final EU summit, European Council President Charles Michel told Ms. Merkel: “She is a monument.” A summit without her would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” he added.

The appreciation from her colleagues was genuine, despite a lot of friction throughout the years. Ms. Merkel has always sought to keep the EU as tight as possible but strongly defends German interests, conflicts with Greece over the debt crisis and disagrees with Hungary, Poland and others over their refusal. receive migrants to Europe.

Ms. Merkel said she was withdrawing from the EU “in a situation that certainly worries me too.”

“We have been able to overcome many crises with respect, always working to find common solutions,” she said. “But we also have a bunch of unresolved issues, and there are huge unfinished missions for my successor.”

The same is true at home, where her record – dominated by crises she has dealt with and including a pandemic that flared up again as she stepped down – is a mixed bag. . She left Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented shortcomings in digitization – many medical offices used fax machines to transmit data throughout the world. translation – and what critics say is a lack of investment in infrastructure.

She has made progress in promoting renewable energy, but has also been criticized for going too slowly on climate change. After announcing in 2018 that she would not seek a fifth term, she failed to ensure a smooth transition of power within her own party, which lost the election in November. 9 in Germany.

The ruling coalition about to form under Scholz said it wanted to “make more progress” for Germany after years of stagnation.

But the overall German verdict still seems to be in favor. During the election campaign, from which she has been largely absent, Merkel’s popularity ratings have outstripped her three successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in postwar Germany, she will leave office at a time of her choosing.

Merkel’s body language and facial expressions sometimes show that her reactions go beyond words. She once lamented that she could not play a poker face: “I gave up. I can not do it “.

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

She has never been the sexiest of political executives, but that’s part of her allure – the prime minister continues to take unhappy strolls, occasionally seen shopping. Shopping at the supermarket and living in the same apartment in Berlin as she did before taking the top job.

Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the 10th year in a row, Mrs. Merkel steps down with a legacy of breaking the threshold of male dominance in politics – though she also has to face her own challenges. with criticism for not trying to do more for gender equality.

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

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

“Angela Merkel has taken class and dignity to a very important place and made very difficult decisions … and did so based on principle,” Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in September. Seven. He describes her as “a compassionate leader, a woman who is not afraid to lead”.


Follow the AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to the new government at End of an era: Germany’s Merkel bows after 16 years


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