The outgoing German chancellor, Angela Merkel, folds 16 years in power, to withdraw completely on Wednesday from the political arena amid unfading popularity, leaving a huge void in the world where she embodied values and a sense of compromise, and was criticized in return for considering her to have no vision.
After 5,860 days in power, the 67-year-old Merkel will hand over her duties to her Social Democratic successor, Olaf Scholz, after the House of Representatives elected him on Wednesday as chancellor.
Thus, Merkel has spent a period in the Chancellery almost equivalent to the record period recorded by her mentor Helmut Kohl, by only nine days.
Many young Germans who are described as the “Merkel generation” knew only her at the head of the government. Public opinion calls the chancellor, who spent 31 years in the House of Representatives, the nickname “Mote”, which means “mother” in German.
And if the leaders’ image declines while they remain in power, the “eternal chancellor” is still hugely popular after her long years in power, and a recent Pew investigation showed that she enjoys 72% of confidence in the international arena.
It overcame the crisis of 2019 when it seemed helpless at the head of a large and faded coalition of the right and the left in the face of a youth mobilization for the climate that it overcame.
In what appeared to be the end of her term, Merkel recently had fits of shaking during a ceremony, raising questions about her ability to complete her fourth and final term.
However, the Covid-19 epidemic has shuffled the cards, and three-quarters of Germans now say they are satisfied with its performance at the top of Germany, according to opinion polls.
Faced with the outbreak of the pandemic, Merkel moved away from resonant rhetorical positions to adopt logical explanation and interpretation.
Commenting on the quarantine measures that reminded her of her life in the former East Germany, she admitted that it was “one of the most difficult decisions” she had to make during her 16 years in power.
In light of the epidemic and its consequences, Merkel once again demonstrated her pragmatism and her ability to change her position to defuse a crisis, an approach that has become known as “Mercelization”.
Angela Merkel (AFP)
Having adhered to fiscal austerity in Europe in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, which led to the tightening of the screws on Greece, Merkel changed her approach to support the financial recovery in Europe and embrace a policy of debt-sharing, believing that this is the way to save the European construction.
In 2011, Germany proceeded to gradually withdraw from nuclear power, a few days after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Her position on the Syrian refugees
But its most prominent historical position was in the fall of 2015, when it decided to open the doors of Germany to hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers, most of whom were Syrians.
Despite public fears, she promised to integrate and protect the newcomers. On this occasion, she declared, “We will be able to do this,” in a slogan that may be the strongest during the era of the chancellor, who is known for her detachment from the rhetorical tone.
The chancellor had always been keen, until then, to give the image of a cautious, even cold, woman, equally in her demeanor and in her tone, who loved potatoes, opera, and excursions in nature.
The “eternal” chancellor
However, Merkel has always maintained that she bears responsibility for her decision, and with the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and Britain’s exit from the European Union, she was considered the “leader of the free world” in a time of rising populist tendencies.
Barack Obama, one of the four US presidents I’ve lived with since 2005, describes her in his memoirs as a “reliable, honest, intellectually accurate” leader, calling her a “wonderful person.”
And the “eternal chancellor”, whom the successive problems she encountered, has not been able to undermine, remains a unique and frightening political figure, whose power is often misjudged by her opponents.
In 2000, she took advantage of a financial scandal within her Christian Democratic Union (centre right) party to take over its leadership. The novice in politics, who at the time lacked charisma, succeeded in marginalizing all the male leaders who stood in her way.
On September 18, 2005, she won, after a fierce competition, against Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, snatching her first electoral victory, before winning later in the 2009, 2013 and 2017 elections.
During a farewell ceremony for the army on Thursday, she acknowledged that these 16 years “required political and humanitarian efforts,” warning of the “fragility of trust” in science and politics in a time of “conspiracy theories” and “hate speeches.”