Auf Wiedersehen, Angela Merkel, until we meet again | Opinion


Angela Merkel, the unadorned German chancellor for 16 years, is set to step down. Here in the pragmatic American Midwest, his constant presence and therefore simpatico will be missed. She too will be missed by Europe.

There is nothing wrong with pending Chancellor Olaf Scholz, 63, set to replace Merkel when Germany’s federal parliament officially approves the transition next week. Like Merkel, the soft-spoken Scholz is a Social Democrat who is seen as well prepared and financially savvy.

But it’s not the same old man, the same old man.

In Germany, voters choose a party, not a leader. After Merkel refused to participate in the national elections in September, the Germans were left with a three-party coalition that will be an immediate challenge for Scholz.

He will have to work with the pro-business Free Democrats and the progressive Greens. Together, its two coalition partners hold more seats in parliament than its Social Democrats, and their charismatic leaders will have a lot to say about German politics ahead.

For some, the arrival of a new guard will come as a relief from Merkel’s cautious and centrist policies. Not for us. Where some see a behind-the-scenes, visionless technocrat, we see one of the great leaders of the 21st century.

During her years in power, Merkel saved the euro, faced Russian aggression, provided housing for 1 million refugees, and united the continent, even as the United States grew increasingly divided. As President Donald Trump pursued his “America First” policy, she became de facto the leader of the free world, championing multilateralism and cooperation among democracies.

Merkel launched her political career after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. She was the studious daughter of a Lutheran pastor, raised in Soviet-controlled East Germany and earning a doctorate in physical chemistry.

No one at the time would have considered that such a complete stranger would be her country’s first female chancellor and one of the most adept negotiators to ever take the world stage. The men around Merkel constantly underestimated her.

We remember how she played the long game after the 2008-09 financial crisis, buying time to piece together the facts and exhausting those pushing for unconditional bailouts.

She ensured that debt relief was accompanied by new fiscal responsibility rules aimed at preventing a future crisis.

When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, negotiations with Vladimir Putin were led by Merkel, and not by the UK, France or the US – nuclear powers with armed forces much more powerful than the United States. ‘Germany. She supported the sanctions in response to the invasion and then denounced Putin for Russia’s poisoning of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny.

When a migration crisis threatened to undermine the European Union’s open borders and common market, Merkel made the unpopular decision to welcome refugees from the civil war in Syria.

It was a rare occasion when a leader not known for her speech came up with a slogan: “Wir schaffen das” which means, roughly speaking, “We can handle this”.

And despite internal opposition, she was right.

Shortly thereafter, she dealt bluntly with Brexit, Britain’s decision to leave the EU, another ‘Wir schaffen das’ case.

True to her experience as a researcher, she showed rationality in resolving the latest crisis that engulfed her country. COVID-19 is surging across Europe and a tired Germany is suffering from what Merkel has described as her worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic.

People are frustrated and have lower vaccination rates than the UK, Italy, France and other countries with strong programs. On Thursday, Merkel and Scholz announced a nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated and supported mandatory vaccination plans in the coming months.

In addition to a new response to the pandemic, some Germans want bolder leadership to fight aggressive Russia and rising China, and to challenge authoritarian rulers in Turkey, Hungary and elsewhere. The Germans also generally support broader action to reduce the fossil fuel emissions that cause climate change.

Outside of Germany, Merkel’s departure will undoubtedly prompt financially troubled European countries to abandon the strict fiscal rules she defended during the sovereign debt crisis.

The EU will be sorry if this is the case.

If populism, nationalism and economic pressures combine to threaten European unity, the continent will aspire to Merkel’s crisis management skills and her commitment to stability. It wouldn’t surprise us if the Old World finally put its most powerful politician of the present century back to service.

As for what happened next, Merkel, 67, echoed the thoughts of many new retirees.

“I would like, in this next phase of life, to think very carefully about what I want to do?” She said in September. “Do I want to write? Do I want to talk? Do I want to go for a walk? Do I want to be home? Do I want to travel the world? For this reason, I decided that at first I will not do anything, and I will see what happens.

We believe that doing nothing won’t last forever, and we look forward to the next move from this diplomatic chess champion.

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