Often referred to as the Chancellor of Europe, Angela Merkel, is set to depart as German chancellor after 16 years in power. To her supporters, she led a stable Germany through many Global crises, provided stable leadership and kept a ‘unified’ Germany. The critics, on the other hand, would argue that she lacked bold vision leading to a fractured political landscape.
However, from the start, Merkel’s career has been full of odds, a feature that remains dominated throughout her political career.
She was elected chancellor of Germany in Nov 2005 when female political leaders, though not unusual in Scandinavia, were hardly common in Germany. Among German leaders, she was full of anomalies, a woman, a scientist and a product of East Germany.
Not soon after, the 2008 financial crisis hit Europe and US hard. Stock markets around the world plunged, billions of dollars in market capitalization vanished. While European countries were hit hard, Merkel’s Germany blossomed during it. She introduced economic stimulus packages fending off a long-term recession in Germany. While most of Europe nation was stagnating, Germany had low unemployment and a strong manufacturing base.
“Her great strength is her consistency, but at the flip side, it is also her lack of political imagination. She is certainly not politically creative and wants to stick to the economically orthodox rule book,” says Dr Amir Ali, who teaches Political Science at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and authored the book “Brexit and Liberal Democracy”.
As a dominant force within the EU, Merkel’s career has been marked with one of the biggest ‘reforms’ in Europe: Brexit. Britain decided to break ties with the EU, as the proponents said that EU membership is hampering the UK’s trade ties outside the trading bloc.
Since the Brexit, UK has seen the resignation of two Prime Ministers- David Cameroon and Theresa May. While an unstable Britain headed for a ‘domestic cultural revolution’, Merkel, a figurehead of EU, remained steadfast.
Her serious demeanours, often unnoticed by experts, also differ her from the current trend of populism. With a current trend where Western leaders fall prey to ‘unreasonable’ populists like Trump or Johnson, Merkel’s delivery is toneless, as if she were trying to induce her audience into shifting its attention elsewhere. She is one of the leaders who exudes rationality and pragmatism.
To establish her unshakable staunch nature, Amir Ali cites Merkel’s UK visit while David Cameron was still the British Prime Minister. “Merkel was addressing a joint press conference with Cameron. One of the members of the British press asked her a question on her relationship with British PM David Cameron and she suggested it seemed like he was a ‘naughty nephew’ to her,” Ali says.
“Cameron found this very amusing and also seemed to be delighted by the analogy as he started laughing. Merkel on the other hand maintained her serious demeanour and almost seemed to disapprove of the comparison in a serious discussion of Anglo German relations,” adds Ali.
Apart from her pragmatism and protestant work ethic, she was known for her resentment against multiculturalism. She asserted that multicultural approach has failed in Germany, a stand led to a debate about immigration in a country which is home to around 4 million Muslims.
Her career also saw other major upheavals including the Euro crisis and Fukushima Daiichi disaster, but she managed to get away without ‘radical changes’. “Merkel’s great strength has been her consistency and the stability she has given to Germany. It is interesting to see that her unwillingness to pander to the part of the electorate attracted by the far right has not gone against her,” Ali added.
Political commentators say that Merkel embodies a fundamental decency, a contrast to many leaders of the day.