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End of an era: German Merkel bows out after 16 years

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

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

Now that near-record term ends with his departure at age 67 to praise the foreigner and enduring popularity in his country. His designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take office on Wednesday.

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, bows out about a week from the longevity record held by her former mentor, Helmut Kohl, who brought Germany together during her tenure as 1982 to 1998.

While Merkel may lack a spectacular signature, the center-right Christian Democrat has come to be seen as an indispensable crisis manager and defender of Western values ​​in times of turbulence.

She served alongside four US presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian prime ministers. His chancellery was marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, the European debt crisis, the influx of refugees in 2015-16 in Europe and the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is undeniable that it has given Germany a lot of soft power,” said Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the German Marshall Fund at the US office in Berlin. “Without a doubt, she raised the image of Germany in the world.”

“When she first came on the scene in 2005 a lot of people underestimated her, but she grew in stature with Germany’s role in the world,” David-Wilp added. Others in Europe and beyond “want more of an active Germany to play a role in the world – that might not have been the case before she was in power, necessarily.”

In a video message to Merkel’s last EU summit in October, former US President Barack Obama thanked her for “taking the lead for so many years.”

“Thanks to you, the center has weathered many storms,” he said.

Merkel played a leading role in EU sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and also spearheaded unfinished efforts until present to achieve it. She was seen as “capable of having a dialogue with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on behalf of the West,” David-Wilp said.

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

The global financial crisis and the influx of migrants “have shown how much we depend on cooperation beyond national borders and how much international institutions and indispensable multilateral instruments are able to face the great challenges of our country. weather, ”said Merkel, identifying these as the climate. change, digitization and migration.

This position was a strong counterpoint to former U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom she had a difficult relationship. During their first White House meeting in March 2017, when photographers shouted at them to shake hands, she softly asked Trump, “do you want to have a handshake?” but there was no response from the president, who looked ahead.

Merkel rejected being called a “leader of the free world” during this time, saying leadership never belongs to one person or country.

Still, she was seen as a crucial leader in the bulky 27-country EU, famous for her endurance in making deals in marathon negotiating sessions.

“Mrs Merkel was a machine for compromise”, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel recently declared. When the negotiations were blocked, she “above all found something that brings us together to get things done”.

This was exposed in July 2020, when EU leaders struck a deal on an unprecedented € 1.8 trillion ($ 2 trillion) budget and coronavirus recovery fund after a disputed summit of four days.

During his 107th and last European summit, the President of the European Council Charles Michel told Merkel: “You are a monument”. A summit without it would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” he added.

The appreciation from his counterparts was sincere, although there had been a lot of friction over the years. Merkel has always sought to keep the EU as tightly knit as possible, but has staunchly defended Germany’s interests, clashing with Greece during the debt crisis and at odds with Hungary, Poland and others on their refusal – unlike Germany – to welcome migrants arriving in Europe.

Merkel said she was withdrawing from the EU “in a situation which concerns me as well”.

“We have been able to overcome many crises in a spirit of respect, always in an effort to find common solutions,” she said. “But we also have a series of unresolved issues, and there are great unfinished business for my successor.”

This is also true at home, where her record – dominated by the crises she has tackled and including a pandemic that flares up again as she retreats – is mixed. She is leaving Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented gaps in digitization – many health units have used faxes to transmit data during the pandemic – and what critics say was a lack of investment in infrastructure.

She has made strides in promoting renewable energy, but has also been criticized for acting too slowly on climate change. After announcing in 2018 that she would not run for a fifth term, she failed to ensure a smooth transition of power in her own party, which collapsed in the September elections in Germany.

The new government coalition led by Scholz has said it wants to “risk further progress” for Germany after years of stagnation.

But the Germans’ overall verdict seems to remain favorable. During the election campaign, from which she was largely absent, Merkel’s popularity surpassed that of her three potential successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in post-war Germany, she leaves office at a time of her choosing.

Merkel’s body language and facial expressions sometimes offered glimpses of her reactions that went beyond words. She once lamented that she couldn’t make a face: “I gave up. I can not do it.

She wasn’t intimidated by Putin’s style. The Russian president once brought his Labrador to a meeting in 2007 with Merkel, who later said she had “some concern” about dogs after previously being bitten by one.

She was never the most glamorous of political operators, but that was part of her appeal – the Chancellor continued to take unglamorous walking vacations, was occasionally seen shopping at the supermarket and lived in the same apartment Berliner that she did before taking the top post.

Named ‘The World’s Most Powerful Woman’ by Forbes Magazine for the past 10 consecutive years, Merkel steps down with legacy of breaking the glass ceiling of male domination in politics – though she has also been criticized for not pushing harder for more gender equality.

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

Former President George W. Bush, whose relations with Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder deteriorated due to the latter’s opposition to the US-led war in Iraq, said ” Angela stepped in and completely changed that ”.

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

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Follow AP’s coverage of Germany’s transition to a new government at https://apnews.com/hub/germany-election.


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