German Merkel to hand over power – Manila bulletin
BERLIN, Germany – She has been called a ‘leader of the free world’ against the authoritarian populists marching in Europe and the United States, but Angela Merkel ends her historic 16 years in power with a mixed legacy in her country and in the foreigner.
In power for so long that she has been dubbed Germany’s “eternal chancellor”, Merkel, 67, leaves with her popularity so resilient that she likely would have won a record fifth term if she had asked for it.
Instead, Merkel will pass the baton as the first German Chancellor to step down entirely by choice, with a whole generation of voters never knowing someone else at the top.
Her supporters say she has provided steadfast leadership through countless global crises as a moderate and unifying figure.
Yet critics argue that a rough style anchored to the broadest possible consensus lacked the bold vision to prepare Europe and its premier economy for decades to come.
What is certain is that she leaves behind a fractured political landscape, with her own CDU party divided as it struggles to emerge from its shadow.
Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, who served as his vice-chancellor and finance minister, has successfully sold himself as Merkel’s continuity candidate ahead of the September general election and will now succeed her.
With Scholz set to be officially elected by parliament as chancellor on Wednesday, Merkel will be days away from breaking Helmut Kohl’s record as the longest-serving post-war German leader.
– Do the right thing –
The imperturbable Merkel has served for many years as a multilateral counterweight to impetuous great men in world politics, from Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin.
A Pew Research Center poll in September showed that large majorities in most democracies around the world “trust Merkel to do the right thing in world affairs.”
A high-trained quantum chemist behind the Iron Curtain, Merkel has long been in tune with her anti-change electorate as a guarantor of stability.
Its main policy changes reflected the wishes of large German majorities – including the gradual phase-out of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 – and drew a large new coalition of women and urban voters into the Formerly archi-conservative CDU.
However, the final days of his tenure were marred by a vicious fourth wave of coronavirus, the worst since the start of the pandemic.
– ‘Queen of austerity’ –
Before the pandemic, his most daring decision – to keep Germany’s borders open to more than a million asylum seekers in 2015 – seemed to determine his legacy.
But while many Germans rallied around Merkel’s “We can do this” cry, the move also emboldened an anti-migrant party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), introducing a far-right bloc in parliament to the first time since WWII.
The woman once known as the “climate chancellor” for pushing for renewable energy is also facing a mass movement of young activists claiming she has failed to address the climate emergency, the Germany failing to meet its own emission reduction commitments.
The new coalition is committed to enhancing this legacy and taking a more assertive stance with Russia and China after the commercial pragmatism of the Merkel years.
Merkel became Europe’s go-to leader during the eurozone crisis when Berlin defended sweeping spending cuts in return for international bailout loans for countries mired in debt.
Angry protesters have dubbed her Europe’s “austerity queen” and caricatured her in Nazi costume, while advocates give her credit for maintaining monetary union.
– Kohl’s “daughter” to “Mum” –
Merkel, the highest leader of the EU and G7, started as a contemporary of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac when she became the youngest and first female Chancellor of Germany in 2005.
She was born Angela Dorothea Kasner on July 17, 1954 in the port city of Hamburg, daughter of a Lutheran clergyman and a teacher.
His father moved the family to a parish in a small town in the Communist East at a time when tens of thousands were heading the other way.
She excelled in math and Russian, which helped her maintain a dialogue with fellow world veteran, Russian Putin, who was a KGB officer in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Merkel kept the name of her first husband, whom she married in 1977 and divorced five years later.
After the wall fell, Merkel, who worked in a chemistry lab, joined a pro-democracy group that was to merge with Kohl’s Christian Democrats.
The East German Protestant Kohl nicknamed his “daughter” would later be elected leader of a party until then dominated by Western Catholic patriarchs.
As she rose to power, party rivals sneered at her âMuttiâ (Mum) behind her back, but she deftly – some have said ruthlessly – eliminated potential challengers.
Although her name is on wish lists for key EU or United Nations positions, Merkel has said she will quit politics altogether.
Her four terms have been “turbulent and often very difficult years,” she said in a military farewell ceremony. “They challenged me politically and humanly and at the same time, they were also fulfilling.”
When asked on her last trip to Washington in June what she expected the most, she replied, “not having to constantly make decisions.”
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