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 Wednesday.
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.
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.
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, a principle she set out at a military parade in her honor last week.
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.
Merkel said she was bowing out of the EU “in a situation that definitely gives me cause for concern as well.”
“We have been able to overcome many crises in a spirit of respect, in an effort always to find common solutions” she said. “But we also have a series of unresolved problems, and there are big unfinished tasks for my successor.”