Is ‘Miracle Merkel’ really bowing out?
Angela Merkel, who can boast of working with two Indian Prime Ministers, 4 American Presidents, 4 French Presidents and 5 British PMs, steps down on Sept 26 after 16 years as Germany’s chancellor
It is rare for a politician to retire and even more rare for them not to seek re-election when another victory looks probable. Both these rare events are taking place in Germany as its first female Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is stepping down after serving 16 years from 2005-2021 as Chancellor.
Merkel’s surprise announcement of not seeking re-election for a 5th term as German Chancellor, however, did follow several electoral reverses at home which hurt her party and the ruling coalition. The rise of the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) party since 2013, may also have forced Merkel to “open a new chapter”.
Born Angela Dorothea Kasner in Hamburg on 17th July 1954, the eldest of three siblings to a pastor father and a teacher mother, she developed a deep interest in mathematics, physics, chemistry and the Russian language. She was awarded a doctorate in quantum chemistry in 1986. She was married in 1977 to Ulrich Merkel whom she met in 1974 as a fellow Physics student but got divorced in 1982. She married again to her current spouse Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist, in 1988, though she retained the surname of her first husband.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, made her aware of her political instincts (though she did not attend the falling of the Berlin wall) and made her join the Democratic Beginning (Demokratischer Aufbruch, DA) in December 1989. In April 1990, DA merged with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU). Post-unification of East and West Germany, Merkel stood for election in December 1990. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl appointed her as the Minister of Women and Youth (1991-94) and Minister for Environment (1994-98) in his cabinet.
She served as the Leader of Opposition in the German Parliament, the Bundestag, from 2002-2005. She clashed with the ruling German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on domestic and global affairs. Following a closely contested election between CDU and Schröder’s SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), Merkel was declared the next German Chancellor and took oath of office on 22nd November 2005.
She steered Germany through the troubled waters of unemployment, the 2008 Financial Crisis, the European Debt Crisis, Refugee Crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Brexit and Covid-19 pandemic relief.
When she took office, unemployment rate in Germany was 11.6% but in 2021, it plummeted to a low of 5.6%. Her German critics say she ended up managing Germany rather than leading it. Her support for the Greek bailout was not viewed favourably domestically. Her restrained style of leadership also drew criticism though she was applauded globally for her problem-solving skills and her exemplary role as a crisis manager and a miracle maker.
She can boast of working with two Indian Prime Ministers, four American Presidents, four French Presidents and five British Prime Ministers. She nurtured a carefully crafted relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin (her fluency in Russian
came in handy) which other world leaders found difficult to establish.
Although Germany has invested in very few stakes in Asia, Merkel took a keen interest to develop relations with India. India’s relationship with Germany also gave it a strong foothold into the workings of the European Union. Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh summed up the relations between India and Germany in 2013, saying, “The high level of our bilateral relationship in recent years has substantially and tangibly raised the quality of our cooperation…”
Dr. Singh first met Merkel for the India-Germany bilateral summit in Berlin from 22nd to 24th April 2006. They met again from the 6th to the 9th of June, 2007 for the 33rd G8 summit in the seaside resort of Heiligendamm. Dr. Singh visited Berlin again from 11th to 12th of December, 2010 and for the last time as Prime Minister on 10th to 12th of April, 2013 where six critical agreements related to higher education research, green energy, advancement of the German language in India, and collaboration in agriculture were signed.
His successor Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Germany four times with his first state visit to Berlin from 12th to 14th April 2015, his next visit on 29th to 30th May 2017, his third for the G-20 summit to Hamburg from 7th-8th July 2017, and Modi’s last working visit to Berlin was on 20th April 2018.
Merkel visited India for the first time in 2007, with follow up visits in 2011, 2015 and in November 2019. She joined hands with India to push for reforms of the UN Security Council and challenged the hegemony of the powerful P5 by demanding a permanent seat at the apex decision body of the United Nations for Germany. In Germany’s tenure during its Presidency of the European Union, it pushed for stronger ties with India and a
special push for collaboration in research and science and technology.
Merkel who is fondly called “Mutti” (mummy) by her German followers is leaving behind a monumental legacy of work which established the prioritization of Germany in the Eurozone and in world affairs.
Ralph Bollmann, author of the book ‘The Germans: Angela Merkel & Us’ attributes the secret of her success to her patience, remarking that she is “much more patient than any other politician in Germany, in Europe or in the world”.
The world anxiously awaits the electoral outcome on 26th September, 2021 on the possible successor of Angela Merkel who will step into her giant shoes as German Federal Chancellor.
(Dhiraj Kumar is an author and columnist based in Mumbai
Views are personal)