BERLIN (AP) — Angela Merkel was assured of a place in the history books as soon as she became Germany’s first female chancellor on Nov. 22, 2005.
Over the next 16 years, she was credited with raising Germany’s profile and influence, working to hold a fractious European Union together, managing a string of crises and being a role model for women.
She is now 67 years old and has left office to be praised from overseas as well as her enduring popularity in the home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, He is scheduled to be in office on Wednesday.
Merkel, an ex-scientist who was born in communist East Germany as a child, has lost about one week of her mentor Helmut Kohl’s record, which she set when Germany was reunited during his tenure from 1982-1998.
Merkel may not have a remarkable signature accomplishment, but the centre-right Christian Democrat was viewed by many as an essential crisis manager and defender Western values during turbulent times.
They served together four U.S. presidentsFour French presidents, five British prime minsters, and eight Italian premiers were among the many notable people who served as her chancellor. Her time as chancellor was marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, Europe’s debt crisis, the 2015-16 influx of refugees to Europe and the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s undeniable that she’s given Germany a lot of soft power,” said Sudha David-Wilp, the deputy director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States’ Berlin office. “Undoubtedly she’s elevated Germany’s image in the world.”
“When she first came onto the scene in 2005, a lot of people underestimated her, but she grew in stature along with Germany’s role in the world,” David-Wilp added. Others in Europe and beyond “want more of an active Germany to play a role in the world — that may not have been the case before she was in office, necessarily.”
In a video message at Merkel’s final EU summit in October, former U.S. President Barack Obama thanked her for “taking the high ground for so many years.”
“Thanks to you, the center has held through many storms,” he said.
Merkel, who was also a major force behind EU sanctions on Russia for its annexe of Crimea and support of separatists from eastern Ukraine, spearheaded the EU’s efforts to sanction Russia. so-far-unfinished efforts to bring about a diplomatic solution there. She was regarded as being “able to have a dialogue with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on behalf of the West,” David-Wilp said.
She was steadfast in pursuing multilateral solutions to the world’s problems, a principle she set out at a military parade in her honor last week.
The global financial crisis and the migrant influx “made clear how much we depend on cooperation beyond national borders and how indispensable international institutions and multilateral instruments are to be able to cope with the big challenges of our time,” Merkel said, identifying those as climate change, digitization and migration.
This was an aggressive counterpoint to Trump’s former U.S. president. At their first meeting in the White House in March 2017, when photographers shouted for them to shake hands, she quietly asked Trump “do you want to have a handshake?” but there was no response from the president, who looked ahead.
Merkel dismissed being labeled as “leader of the free world” during that period, saying leadership is never up to one person or country.
Yet, her role was seen as crucial in the EU’s 27 member states. She is known for her endurance and ability to negotiate in long marathon negotiating sessions.
“Ms. Merkel was a compromise machine,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said recently. When negotiations were blocked, she “mostly found something that unites us to move things along.”
It was all on display at the July 2020 summit, where EU leaders struck a record 1.8 trillioneuro ($2 Trillion) budget agreement and established a coronavirus recovery fund.
At her 107th and last EU summit, European Council President Charles Michel told Merkel: “You are a monument.” A summit without her would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” he added.
Although she was genuinely grateful to her counterparts, there was also plenty of friction throughout the years. Merkel always sought to keep the EU as tightly knit as possible but strongly defended Germany’s interests, clashing with Greece during the debt crisis and disagreeing with Hungary, Poland and others over their refusal — unlike Germany — to host migrants arriving in Europe.
Merkel said she was bowing out of the EU “in a situation that definitely gives me cause for concern as well.”
“We have been able to overcome many crises in a spirit of respect, in an effort always to find common solutions” she said. “But we also have a series of unresolved problems, and there are big unfinished tasks for my successor.”
That’s also true at home, where her record — dominated by the crises she addressed and including a pandemic that is flaring anew as she steps down — is a mixed bag. She leaves Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented shortcomings in digitization — many health offices resorted to fax machines to transmit data in the pandemic — and what critics say was a lack of investment in infrastructure.
Although she was successful in encouraging renewable energy, critics also pointed out that her approach to climate change is too slow. After announcing in 2018 that she wouldn’t seek a fifth term, she failed to secure a smooth transition of power in her own party, which slumped to defeat in Germany’s September election.
The incoming governing coalition under Scholz says it wants to “venture more progress” for Germany after years of stagnation.
But Germans’ overall verdict appears to remain favorable. During the election campaign, from which she largely was absent, Merkel’s popularity ratings outstripped those of her three would-be successors. Merkel is leaving power at the time she chooses, not like her seven predecessors in postwar Germany.
Merkel’s body language and facial expressions sometimes offered a glimpse of her reactions that went beyond words. She once lamented that she couldn’t put on a poker face: “I’ve given up. I can’t do it.”
She wasn’t intimidated by Putin’s style. The Russian president once brought his Labrador to a 2007 meeting with Merkel, who later said she had a “certain concern” about dogs after having once been bitten by one.
She was never the most glamorous of political operators, but that was part of her appeal – the chancellor continued to take unglamorous walking holidays, was occasionally seen shopping at the supermarket and lived in the same Berlin apartment as she did before taking the top job.
Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years in a row, Merkel steps down with a legacy of breaking through the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics — although she also has faced criticismYou should not push harder to achieve gender equality.
Obama said that “so many people, girls and boys, men and women, have had a role model who they could look up to through challenging times.”
Former President George W. Bush, whose relationship with Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, soured over the latter’s opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, said that “Angela came in and changed that completely.”
“Angela Merkel brought class and dignity to a very important position and made very hard decisions … and did so based upon principle,” Bush told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in July. He described her as “a compassionate leader, a woman who was not afraid to lead.”
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