4 key moments that define Angela Merkel’s 16 years as Chancellor of Germany and “Queen of Europe”

It’s the end of an era.

After 16 years with Angela Merkel at the helm, the voters of Germany will choose his successor this Sunday in a general election that the polls predict the most close.

The chancellor, as the head of the government in Germany is known, is a rare example of duration at the head of a country at a time when instability has marked world politics.

No European leader has been in charge of government longer and none has weathered as many crises as she has, to the point that she has become one of the most recognizable figures on the global scene.

His admirers value his serenity and pragmatism in the face of great challenges and having known how to maintain the voice of good sense in a world characterized by polarization and strident leadership.

His critics reproach him for being too conservative and for not having dared to carry out the reforms that industrial Germany needs to preserve its position in an increasingly digital world.

Polls indicate that, despite her long time in power, Merkel remains very popular with Germans.

But his legacy also presents shadows.

“One of the many nicknames Angela Merkel had is Queen of Europe. But now that he is leaving politics, I am not sure that this royal label is going to accompany him, “she says. Katya adler, BBC Europe editor.

At BBC Mundo we analyze four moments that define a political career that is now ending.

1. The day he “killed the father,” the mighty Helmut Kohl

In 1999, Merkel was a young, second-rate political leader in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The conservative CDU lived low hours after having lost the elections the previous year and the former chancellor Hemut Kohl it was peppered with a scandal of irregular party funding.

Angela Merkel and Helmut Kohl, at a CDU meeting in 2001.

Getty Images

Kohl was everything in German politics. He had been the architect of unification after the fall of the Berlin Wall and a kind of mentor to Merkel, whom he had appointed Minister of Women and Youth first, and Environment and Nuclear Safety later.

When few were counting on her, Merkel took an unexpected step against Kohl. Published in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FACE) a rostrum in which he claimed that “he had hurt the party” and called for his relief.

Matt ORvortrup, Professor of Political Science at the University of Coventry, England, and author of a biography of Merkel, told BBC Mundo that the now Chancellor “realized then that Kohl’s star was declining and had to commit a kind of parricide politician to boost his career ”.

“It was a purely well-executed political movement,” says Qvortrup.

Although she won many enmity within her own ranks, Merkel was shortly afterwards elected secretary general of the CDU, which in 2005 she managed to return to power, this time with her as chancellor, the first woman in office.

2. Mission: save the euro

In 2010, the effects of the great global financial crisis in Europe endangered the survival of the euro, the currency shared by 19 states of the European Union.

Greece’s solvency problems forced successive international rescue packages to this country, amid tough negotiations, panic in the markets and doubts about the viability of the European currency.

Merkel and Alexis Tsipras at a European summit.


Merkel had to deal with sectors of her country that demanded cuts and sacrifices from the Greeks and other states of Mediterranean Europe, and with the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras in Athens, which came to power with the promise of ending the austerity promoted from Berlin and other northern capitals.

Qvortrup indicates that “the Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schauble, wanted to take Greece out of the euro and she did not, so in some way she deserves to be recognized for having saved Greece’s permanence in the eurozone.”

For Franco Delle Donne, an Argentine political analyst based in Germany, that time of tense negotiations in Brussels allowed the Chancellor to deploy the so-called “Merkel method”, consisting of “forging consensus through pragmatism”.

The euro was finally saved, although many assured then and continue to do so now that the austerity policy promoted was counterproductive and caused great damage to the societies of southern Europe.

“That policy could be handled better,” acknowledges Qvortrup. Indeed, when the European Union had to decide its response to the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020, Germany accepted a massive injection of funds for the worst-hit countries and even the issuance of common European debt, for years anathema to Berlin. .

For Delle Donne, it is an example that “Merkel is a pragmatic woman who does not mind changing her mind to solve problems.”

3. “We will make it”: a motto in the face of the migratory tide

When Europe experienced a migration crisis in 2015 due to the massive arrival of migrants, mostly Syrians fleeing the war in their country, other European states chose to close their borders.

Against the current, Merkel decided to keep the Germans open and sent a message to her country that would become almost a slogan: “Wir schaffen das” (“We will make it”).

Merkel, in an image from 2015.

Thomas Lohnes / Getty

He was referring to Germany’s ability to receive and integrate around 1.5 million migrants.

That was a rectification. A few months earlier, the audience had seen on television how a Palestinian girl burst into tears at a meeting of schoolchildren with the chancellor. The young woman expressed her fear of having to leave the country and an impassive Merkel insisted on the importance of respecting immigration regulations.

Her biographers insist that Merkel has always had a special nose for detecting the preferences of the electorate and that episode made her seem like a cold and insensitive leader.

However, Merkel’s promigration turn made her the target of criticism from the sectors most reluctant to welcome and there was a rise of the xenophobic far right.

For Qvortrop, “the problem is that he underestimated the political impact. Many people, especially in East Germany, got angry, because they thought that Germany could not receive all these migrants ”.

In the 2017 elections, Merkel’s CDU lost 8.7% of her votes, although she managed to form a new government coalition with her at the helm.

Qvortrop assures that “all those people who arrived have been integrated and have a positive impact on the German economy.”

However, the increase in xenophobia translated into the arrival of the extreme right in Parliament in 2017, a milestone in a country that seemed to have overcome the ghosts of its Nazi past.

Merkel was always inflexible with the extremists, with whom she refused any pact.

4. “Alone” in front of Trump

Merkel and other world leaders speak with Donald Trump at the G7 summit in 2018.

Getty Images

The differences between Merkel and Donald trump, former president of the United States, were patented more than once.

Perhaps the most memorable episode was that of the 2018 G7 summit, in which Trump refused to sign the final statement and a photograph captured him defensively against Merkel and other world leaders. The meeting between the two was also talked about a lot, in which he ignored the proposal to shake hands with the photographers.

Merkel has a Ph.D. in Physics and is credited with having based her policies on the available evidence, while Trump questioned scientific knowledge on many occasions, such as when he predicted that the coronavirus would “disappear” or when he decided to withdraw his country from the Paris agreement to stop climate change.

Franco Delle Donne recalls that “Merkel has always fled from polarization” represented by a figure like Trump.

“Merkel viewed Trump with contempt,” agrees Qvortrup. “He knew he was going to be the banner-bearer of liberal internationalism as long as he was in power in the United States,” he adds.

As told in a book Ben rhodes, the former adviser to Barack Obama, Merkel confided to the then US president in their last meeting that the imminent arrival of Trump to the White House had encouraged her to run for re-election for chancellor in 2017.

According to Rhodes, Obama said then: “Now she is totally alone.”

Did Merkel achieve her goal of keeping the international order in place? “There is still an agreement on the climate and some other things that Trump failed to destroy,” responds Qvortrup.

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