End of the Merkel era
August 13, 2021 - September 26, 2021 - Angela Merkel has dominated Germany’s political landscape ever since she became Chancellor in 2005. September’s election will mark the 16th and last year of Merkel’s era.
Merkel’s departure from the political stage will be profound for Germany and Europe. She has worked tirelessly to keep domestic, European and world politics from unravelling. Merkel’s Germany has become more open, demographically and politically diverse, more pressured economically, and less cautious internationally than when she arrived.
Crises started piling up during her first term. The 2008 global financial crisis -- triggered by a U.S. housing market meltdown -- hit European economies, Germany saw an 8.0% fall in exports. Within a year, Greece almost quit the eurozone, causing bitter rifts in the EU.
In her second term, she worked with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite his annexation of Crimea. She defended Nord Stream 2 -- a second pipeline carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea -- despite opposition from the U.S., France, Poland, Ukraine and Estonia.
In 2015, her third term saw more than a million refugees walk from the Middle East through the Balkans to Germany. Under her tenure, Germans remain committed to European integration, notwithstanding Britain’s vote to quit the 28-member European Union.
In November 2016, Europe was shocked by Donald Trump winning the White House. Days later, outgoing President Barack Obama visited Berlin and tried to convince Merkel to run again as Chancellor to counter Trump and hold together the West. Merkel started her fourth term in 2017.
Merkel outlasted Trump, like so many others -- nine Italian and Japanese prime ministers, five British prime ministers, four U.S. and French presidents and two Chinese leaders. However, Xi Jinping is president for life.
In an address at Harvard University at the height of Trump’s presidency in 2019, she urged graduates to “tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness” and to “take joint action in the interests of the multilateral, global world.”
That is perhaps her long-lasting legacy.