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News / Nation & World

Germany’s Merkel bids farewell to job

In office 16 years, she was first female chancellor

By GEIR MOULSON, Associated Press
Published: December 7, 2021, 5:44pm
10 Photos
Angela Merkel arrives for a debate with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a television studio in Berlin on Sept. 4, 2005.
Angela Merkel arrives for a debate with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at a television studio in Berlin on Sept. 4, 2005. (Associated Press files) Photo Gallery

BERLIN — 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.

Now that near-record tenure is ending with her leaving office at age 67 to praise from abroad and enduring popularity at home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take office today.

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, is bowing out about a week short of the record for longevity held by her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, who reunited Germany during his 1982-1998 tenure.

While Merkel perhaps lacks a spectacular signature achievement, the center-right Christian Democrat came to be viewed as an indispensable crisis manager and defender of Western values in turbulent times.

She served alongside four U.S. presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian premiers. Her chancellorship 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.”

Merkel was a driving force behind EU sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine, and also spearheaded 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.

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.

She was viewed as a crucial leader in the unwieldy 27-nation EU, famed for her stamina in coaxing agreements in marathon negotiating sessions.

The appreciation from her counterparts was genuine, although there was plenty of friction over 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.

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