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Home » Europe, Germany

The end of Merkel’s era in Germany

Submitted by on 20 Dec 2018 – 11:19

The era of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who has ruled Germany for 13 years and was also regarded  as the world’s most powerful woman for over a decade — is drawing to a close.

On October 29th, Merkel announced her decision to step down as leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU), spreading a sense of worry across Germany and Europe. She also declared that she plans to remain chancellor until her term ends in 2021 but will not run for another term as German leader.

Merkel’s announcement came hours after her party recorded the worst election results since 1966 in the western state of Hesse, and two weeks after her conservative allies in Bavaria received a similar blow.

With three of the EU’s most powerful institutions run by Germans, German influence has always been strongly felt within the continent. Angela Merkel has commanded the European centre stage over the past eighteen years, as a symbol of stability.

As one of her biographers notes: “Merkel is still more popular in Germany than Macron is in France and Trump in the United States or May is in Britain.” In fact, he noted that she is more popular than most of the European leaders.

Her decision to step down may not come as a huge surprise, but nevertheless it shook political Berlin, given the potential repercussions following the end of her chancellorship.

Merkel’s well-timed departure precisely reflects what she said in an interview nearly 20 years ago: “Some day I want to find the right way to leave politics,” she had said in 1998. “It’s a lot harder than I used to imagine. I don’t want to be a half-dead wreck.”

An extremely calculated, watchful, systematic, pragmatic and sometimes exasperatingly noncommittal politician, Merkel would be the second-longest-serving chancellor in recent German history after Helmut Kohl.

With ‘Thatcherite doggedness’, she carefully navigated through Europe’s worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the European debt crisis, and then the surge of immigrants.

While some of her critics think she is wavering, indecipherable and often panders to public opinion, they often describe her as a tactical diplomat who is reluctant and unable to challenge old German orthodoxies. In fact, the verb – “merkeln” – was coined to describe her alleged indecisiveness.

However, she commands respect even from those who disagree with her. Throughout her 13 years in power, Merkel managed to build a name for herself nationally and internationally. She was named repeatedly “the most powerful woman in the world” by Forbes magazine.

As one of her biographers note: “She’s a German patriot more than a European. She’s very much interested in what is good for Germany, and what is good for Germany is also, by implication, good for Europe.”

Merkel was viewed as the scandal-free face for the CDU, when she started as chancellor of Germany, however none imagined that she would hold onto the position for 18 years and rule as chancellor for 13 of them.

In the end, Kohl’s ‘little girl’ — who came into politics from nowhere — proved everyone wrong and showed that she knew how to play the power game better than many of the men who looked down on her and saw her as politically harmless. She has an astounding record in outfoxing, outlasting, and outmanoeuvring full-of-themselves male rivals.

Germany and Europe may well survive her departure, but her exit has added an element of insecurity in an already uncertain political atmosphere with the Brexit deadline looming large.

Politicians have to be effective, credible and stable, and Merkel has been a personification of all that, and much more.

As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used to say: “there is no alternative” to Angela Merkel.