As German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to step down after serving the country for over 15 long years, the departure of the de-facto leader of Europe might trigger uncertainty as Germany hasn’t been immune to the rise of the right
Born as Angela Dorothea Kasner to Horst Kasner and Herlind Kasner in Hamburg, Angela Merkel became the first woman Chancellor of Germany in 2005. Her father was a Lutheran Minister, and her mother an English teacher. Merkel is now 66 years. She has made an indelible impression on the public life in Germany, Europe and around the globe. She is the first woman and the first East German to hold the highest elected office of the country. Merkel has won four consecutive elections for the office of the Chancellor since 2005. She is set to retire from active politics in September 2021. When she leaves her office this year, she will be Germany’s second longest
serving leader in the modern era only after her mentor and former Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
Merkel is branded as a figure of “Hope”. The best part of her career is that she knows who she is, and she does not try being someone else. She does complete justice to herself and her abilities. Friends, critics, diplomats, and historians say she knows German history exceedingly well. Though she does not like the term, some American and British commentators started calling her “the leader of the free world”. In fact, this has happened because most of the locals in these two countries were for some time fully frustrated with their democratically elected leaders and set to spot the future of the western world in Merkel’s leadership.
In 2009, after four years of her chancellery, Mattel Inc, an American toy manufacturing multinational giant, made an Angela Merkel Barbie Doll. The Forbes magazine has ranked Merkel the world’s most powerful woman for ten years consecutively. In 2015, she was declared as the Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”.
Time in its profile rightly noted, “Her political style was not to have one; no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s strong sense of power, and a scientist’s strong devotion to data”. And finally, in 2020, a remarkable Pew Poll survey found that Merkel is the world’s most trusted leader. What more you need to claim her to be the most successful politician of our troubled times.
Today, the most dangerous crisis in the western world is that democracy is under siege. It’s constantly challenged by anti-democratic populist politics, Russia’s cyber-attacks, rise of the right, and varied shades of Trumpism prevalent almost everywhere. When we think a West minus democracy is nothing but an omen for humanity, then many of us can find our answer in Merkel only. She is the one who is capable of turning the tide and making democracy viable and sustainable in the western world.
When she made public that she will step down as the leader of her party, Christian Democratic Union (CDU), on October 29, 2018, many political observers said the most powerful woman of the world is looking for an elegant and dignified exit. She is also termed as the de facto leader of the European Union (EU).
At present, the coalition government of Merkel consists of three political parties, namely her own CDU, the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). It is uncertain today whether Merkel would be able to continue as Chancellor till September. It may so happen that the SPD may force her to resign by withdrawing support and push the country for a fresh election. However, the optimists opine that she is in full command of her government. And coalition partners hopefully will not dislodge her and will allow her to go for a graceful exit.
In fact, Markel has had a firm grip on the country, except in one instance in 2015 when it was felt that Merkel is not in control of the country’s borders. That year seemed to be a catastrophe as nearly a million refugees mainly from West Asia streamed into Germany.
Referred to as “das Madchen” “That Girl” by the former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Markel is also known as Germany’s beloved mom. Initially trained as a quantum chemist, she spent the first 35 years of her life in the Soviet-controlled East Germany, until the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. It was a historic moment for both Europe and for the entire world. And also for this quiet scientist. She has done whatever it takes to prevent the EU from falling in her entire four terms of chancellorship.
Currently, she inspires and influences people, especially women around the world. The world of politics is seriously under-represented by woman. She has carved a niche for herself as grand unifier of Europe at a time when forces of disintegration have been looming large across the continent. One can clearly say that when crisis comes, Merkel responds to them with unabated success. She has figured out a well-managed team to answer crisis zones all throughout her career of more than one and a half decade in office. Markel has even quietly digested all the taunts, fabrications, unilateral actions and slights by Donald Trump in his four years in office against Germany and many other allies of the US in Europe.
However, her critics think otherwise. To them, she is a cynical operator. She is one big ruthless leader who sidelines her opponents in a Machiavellian style. While acting in this manner, what reigns on her mind is the interest of the voters. The critics think as a de facto leader of Europe, she has failed to craft a real architecture for the future integration of Europe.
Merkel welcomed more than a million refugees from West Asia in 2015 and 2016. When refugees crossed over to Germany, she simply said, “We will manage this”. Her critics said it was her great mistake, but she proved them wrong finally. This created a furore across Europe and particularly in Germany. Anyone critical of Merkel’s open-door policy towards the migrants were branded as racist. Nearly a million refugees and asylum seekers reached the country before the Chancellor ordered to close the border entries in March 2016 when Balkan states cut off the migrant route. Many later said some of the media reports were biased and they failed to cover the influx of refugees responsibly. And despite having a strong intervention from Merkel, the German society is split over the migrant issue.
Some international experts criticise her for purported lack of vision and of course stagnation during her four terms as Chancellor. What Germany eventually has done mattered a lot than what it said in the past sixteen years. Europe has experienced massive waves of change, especially the departure of Britain from the privileged EU.
Against the backdrop of the crisis, the far-right groups and political parties across Europe voiced their strong concerns over the migrants. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), the most influential party of the rightists in Germany, vehemently criticised the open-door policy of Merkel towards the migrants. This backlash led to the worst performance of her party in the last 70 years in 2017. Her grand coalition is seemed to be fraught with major difficulties in her last term in office.
She clearly says she has no plan to hold any public office beyond 2021. But the fact is that since the unification of Germany, she has been either holding one or the other important office, including the Chancellor’s. So practically speaking, it is time for her to go.
Now the question is: Does Merkel has a trans-Atlantic legacy or impact? Merkel’s departure from public life would be profound both in Germany and in entire Europe. She has experimented a lot: She was one who stopped military conscription, allowed the ECB to pump money into the economy to save the Euro, initiated a radical energy policy, and top of that, despite all odds, invited nearly a million refugees to the country.
However, she proved her detractors wrong who predicted the total collapse of the German system. Though she has introduced voluminous changes, she has projected to the world that things have remained stable. It must be said that German politicians are adept in making new ideas look old, sturdy and durable.
Merkel has read Germans exceptionally well, and knows they were looking for an emotional insurance policy before stepping into a new narrative of change. So she religiously followed the prophetic words of Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1949-63, who said: “No Experiments”.
Thus, she has cleverly weathered a series of countless domestic and global upheavals. Also, she has placed absolute confidence on a group of loyalists who has served for decades in the Chancellor’s office. Her appetite for complete information and constant arguments puts her above from her contemporaries in Germany. She prefers that success be rewarded with approval and credit. She is capable of working against all odds!
(Dr Makhan Saikia has taught political science and international relations for over a decade in institutions of national and international repute after specialisation in globalisation and governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is the chief editor of the Journal of Global Studies, an international research journal)