A day after the 2016 US elections, Angela Merkel offered the newly elected president what observers described as a thinly veiled warning: cooperation only “on the basis” of shared democratic values.
Just two weeks later, she announced plans to run for a fourth term as pressure mounting to become “leader of the free world” and the leading defender of the West.
Now is the end of an era and no one can say for sure what will come next.
Merkel has been in power for nearly 16 years and during that time has been a staunch advocate of keeping the European Union together, becoming the sometimes controversial face of a crisis manager.
His early life was marked by a move to East Germany as a baby when his father accepted a job as a pastor there.
The time he spent growing up in a socialist state influenced his view of Western values, says Stefan Kornelius, Merkel’s official biographer and foreign editor of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
“She really honed a very positive view of the West and the Democratic world and the Western ideals that she held very high,” he said. She felt “deeply convinced that open societies work better.”
Merkel received a Ph.D. in quantum chemistry in 1986, working as a research assistant before entering politics before the fall of the Berlin Wall. He first entered politics during the revolutions in 1989, joining a small East German party.
After German reunification, she would become a member of the Christian Democratic Union, holding the post of Minister for Women and Youth from Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
“Until the age of 35, I only knew the European Union from the outside, and I have only been a connoisseur since 1990,” Merkel told the European Parliament in 2007. “From the outside, the European Union is an unprecedented historical success story. . “
“However, also from within, the European Union is a wonderful house. In fact, I find it even more beautiful inside than outside … I never want to leave this house. I am convinced that there is no better place for us to live than in our shared European home, ”said Merkel.
He has been credited with keeping the house together, fighting for the European Union to remain intact during the financial and migration crisis.
“The German government, under the leadership of Angela Merkel, had a decisive influence on all the recent crises in Europe, but most visibly and significantly by looking at the global financial crisis and its effects on Europe,” said Jana Puglierin, director of the European Council. about the Foreign Office in Berlin.
Many countries had large government debts when the US financial crisis turned into a global recession in 2009 and the crisis called into question the strength of the eurozone as many southern European countries, such as Greece, struggled.
Germany paid the largest amount of the EU’s first bailout of Greece in 2010 and during the crisis, bailouts by the European Central Bank, the EU, and the International Monetary Fund required unpopular austerity measures that led to violent protests in Greece.
Germany was instrumental in bailout negotiations with Merkel, a supporter of the tough measures. That role in crisis management, which included three bailouts totaling almost 330 million euros, is largely considered a success, though not without criticism.
The financial crisis in Greece led to a decline in household income and tough austerity measures included cuts in health spending. TO 2018 study published in The Lancet He said the measures had partly led to an increase in mortality in the country.
The demands on Greece were also strongly criticized by some in Germany and the newspaper Der Spiegel described the measures as “a catalog of atrocities”.
“I know people were very angry with me, [calling me] a bad person for actually imposing these strict conditions on Greece and Portugal etc. But now you see that reforms are being carried out, “Merkel told the World Economic Forum in 2020, stating that the improvement was due to the” rigor and harshness “of the reforms carried out.
“Germany has not only made friends during that time, there was a lot of criticism when it comes to the austerity policy. But in the end, I think Germany did enough to keep the union together, to keep Greece on board, ”said Puglierin.
Merkel said the World Economic Forum in 2015 that “everything we do politically is aimed at keeping Greece part of the euro zone”. He said that it was necessary to create jobs to get out of the crisis.
“There are two things that must be in place: we must show solidarity and we will continue to show solidarity along with the willingness to take responsibility for ourselves. I am convinced that Greece will continue to show that sense of responsibility, “said Merkel.
That same year, European solidarity would occupy a central place as more than a million refugees, many of those fleeing the wars in Syria and Afghanistan, would reach the bloc.
The influx of refugees to Italy and Greece was quickly derailed in a crisis and Merkel advocated relocation of migrants across the EU even as Eastern European nations opposed it.
“If Europe fails on the refugee issue, if this close link with universal civil rights is broken, then it will not be the Europe we want,” German broadcaster Deutsche Welle quoted Merkel as saying in August 2015.
She insisted that “we can do this”, as Germany hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees during the crisis.
This contributed to the rise of the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD), with the party greatly increasing its support in 2016 with an anti-immigration platform.
In early 2016, Merkel was also negotiating other solutions, helping to reach an agreement with Turkish officials to prevent migrants from reaching Europe.
Merkel’s center-right bloc still lost 65 seats in the 2017 elections, after peaking at 311 seats in 2013. Support for her party has fallen in recent weeks even as she campaigns for her future successor, Armin. Laschet.
Nonetheless, he has remained popular in Germany and Europe, despite the COVID-19 crisis, and some experts say that if he runs once again he could win the election. Many had credited her expertise as a scientist with her consistent leadership during the pandemic.
Merkel and Frenchman Emmanuel Macron presented the plan that would include debt sharing among EU nations in the pandemic stimulus plan.
“People are very happy in Germany. They don’t like interruption very much. They don’t like change very much, ”said Dr. Horst Lochel, professor of economics at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. He added that Merkel has been a pragmatic but flexible leader.
“He also has a kind of feeling for Eastern Europe to balance interests there. Whether it is good or bad is another story, but to balance interests, “he said.
While he is credited with helping negotiate a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia, his stance on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been criticized for bringing Germany closer to Vladimir Putin.
It has been criticized for keeping Hungarian President Viktor Orban in the European People’s Party for too long, pandering to far-right leaders to keep the union together as well.
For most, his legacy will be synonymous with stability, leading Germany and Europe through countless crises with flexibility and caution in his decisions. Another European leader is unlikely to re-create his ability to balance interests and manage negotiations.
“You can blame her for not being too decisive, for not being too visionary, for not being a practical policy, for not putting her fists on the table,” Kornelius said.
“But again, we can’t praise her for the attitude that exactly that precaution is, and this kind of low-key, non-ideological balance that you get. You can’t have both. “
Many say his absence will leave a void in Europe, as politics becomes more complicated and less related to balancing interests.
“No one can replace Angela Merkel, at least for the foreseeable future, because Angela Merkel has built her reputation and her political clout for 16 years,” Puglierin told the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“And I think that just in terms of experience and in terms of political weight, none of the leaders in Europe is able to basically follow in their footsteps.”
This article is part of our special miniseries to help you understand the German elections.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism