Everything must come to an end and the 16-year reign of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is no exception. She takes with her the honor of having been Germany’s longest-serving leader in modern times and the reputation of having known when to flex her muscles versus when to lay low.
As if handling the biggest economy in Europe wasn’t enough, Merkel earned bragging rights for a long string of accomplishments. She ended compulsory military enlistment, blazed a pathway for a nuclear-free future, kicked fossil fuel to the curb, legalized same-sex marriage, and set a minimum standard wage along with a requirement for employers to provide benefits. A big deal for her was in encouraging deadbeat dads to take care of their kids by making it uncomfortable for those who chose not to.
Bavarian governor Markus Soeder was the voice of many when he summed up Merkels’ long career. “You protected our country well. All the major crossroads you had to navigate … we never mapped out in any election program — they came overnight and you had to govern well.”
Merkels abilities were stretched to capacity during the global financial crisis in 2008. She lost the popularity contest by making strict yet necessary budget cuts, but when the dust settled and the German Deutschmark soared above all others, those same critics handed her the title of homecoming queen.
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Beyond Germany’s boundaries, Merkel has often worn the expressionless face of calm and reason as she sought compromise in lieu of bullets and sanctions. She preferred a more multilateral approach where world leaders would play nicely rather than kill their citizens with an avoidable war.
Ralph Bollmann, a journalist with the popular German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, said, “I think Ms. Merkel’s most important legacy is simply that, in such a time of worldwide crises, she provided for stability.”
Bollman said there was “a constant succession of crises that were really existential threats and raised questions over the world order we are used to, and her achievement is that she led Germany, Europe and perhaps to some extent the world fairly safely through that, for all that you can criticize details.”
Prior to assuming the helm in 2005, Bollman said Merkel was viewed as “a chancellor of change, who wanted to make Germany more modern.” At the time, Germany was deeply steeped in stubborn traditions that showed no progressive way forward, so her rise to power was not without its share of fierce resistance.
Bollman said that having to deal with one world crisis after another has left Merkel little time to focus on national matters. She knows she’s leaving a full in-basket behind. Perhaps the largest of those matters lies with Germany falling behind the eightball in terms of technology.
Merkel has made it known that “the lack of digitization in our society” is an issue of great importance. In these modern times, most of Germany’s government health offices still rely on non-secure fax machines, even for the transmittal of pandemic updates. And those traveling through the country may as well turn off their cell phones. Reception depends on the position of the moon and stars and they seldom cooperate.
Merkel, 67, rarely pats her own back. She believes it’s not up to her to judge whether she deserves one or not. But the camera-shy Chancellor in a recent and rare appearance did make mention of one of her major accomplishments. When she took office in 2005, unemployment figures exceeded 5 million out-of-work citizens. Today these figures are less than 2.6 million, or roughly half of what they were. Still a lot of unemployed people, but a nice improvement nonetheless.
But as Merkel insists, it’s up to people and history to make the decision of how well she served the citizens of her nation. She has little to no say. She’s been both praised and condemned by the best of them, but at the end of the day when she, those people, and anyone reading this article are dust in the wind, it’ll be up to future historians to determine the type of legacy Merkel leaves behind.
What do you think they’ll say?