One thing is for sure. Many will miss her. When again in the German or European political debate there is a need for calm, moderate voting and a new compromise. When again a political example is needed to show that you can also exercise power without excessive frills, without exorbitant privileges, without questionable friends. If there is a need to down to earth.
After sixteen years as chancellor and four governments, Angela Merkel’s political career will soon be over. Once she ruled with the small Free Democratic Party, she three times formed a coalition with the Social Democrats from the SPD. In 2017, it looked like she was going to say goodbye. The story goes that after Brexit and Trump’s election, President Obama, among others, invited it to stay – as a democratic bastion in a political age marked by populism.
With Merkel gone, political canonization lay latent. It is not necessary. Merkel is no saint, and Merkel also has controversial resolutions to her name. It is a private policy.
Sixteen years is a long time – Merkel became chancellor before the iPhone was introduced. In next week’s Bundestag elections, for the first time, young Germans will go to the polls who don’t remember Germany had another chancellor, who doesn’t remember Germany was ruled by a man. The question is, is it healthy for a political party or for a democratic system if access to the top is prevented for a long time? Since when does continuity stand in the way of innovation? In recent years, has Merkel done enough on climate, the political issue likely to shape the lives of these young voters?
During those sixteen years, many crises knocked on her door. The financial crisis of 2008, which extended to the euro crisis. The Russian annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014. And of course the refugee crisis in 2015 – when she spoke the words that will stay with her forever: make it. This was followed by the rise of right-wing populism with Brexit and Trump abroad and the rapid growth of the far-right Alternative Party at home.
In the euro crisis, Greece kept the platform, and may have saved the currency union. The reforms that required were far-reaching and devastating as well. They made it a bogeyman in Greece anyway. Other decisions made at the time were also controversial, such as requiring banks to contribute to bailouts, which was bad for Italy and Spain. In those countries, she was not able to explain why the currency union was organized in such a way that Germany, the exporting country, benefited greatly, while the South had to make severe cuts.
In the refugee crisis, she showed Germany with a human face, but in this she surprised her country. The AfD, which started as an anti-euro party, has become an anti-immigration party and gained a stable position in the Bundestag in 2017, although many parties are not willing to cooperate with it. Conservative voters fed up with Merkel have since veered to the right. The Christian Democrats have done everything they can for decades to prevent this.
The last stage of her career was marked by an epidemic, floods and the fall of Kabul, for which Germany was also not prepared. The pandemic has once again shown just how bureaucratic and old-fashioned (for the lack of sufficient digitization) in Germany. Last summer’s floods killed 180 people.
In sixteen years, she has surprised her audience twice: with the refugee crisis and the abolition of nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster. Her brand was specifically a mixture of ease and hold, pragmatism and expertise. Her style gave many Germans a feeling that the country was in good hands with her; Merkel gave them no reason to fear a revolution. But the revolution is necessary now given the climate – certainly in the car country of Germany.
In any case, Germany and Europe will soon face a void, and it remains to be seen who will fill it. Anyway, as German chancellor, you’ve come a long way if a European opinion poll shows that in a hypothetical election, Europeans would rather see you as the president of Europe than the French president. In Germany itself, some people say they feel insecure at the thought of her imminent departure.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on September 18, 2021
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of September 18, 2021
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