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The Miracle of Angela Merkel

Publication: National Herald

Date: 24th September, 2021

It is rare for a politician to retire and even rarer to not seek an extension of the term to fight the next election where a certain win is probable. Both these rare events are taking place in Germany as its first female Chancellor, Angela Merkel has decided to not contest the upcoming elections and leave office voluntarily after serving a towering tenure of almost 16 years from 2005-2021.

 

Merkel is known to be a shrewd politician and, in a surprise, move announced that she will not seek re-election for a 5th term as German Chancellor and would retire from office on 26th September 2021. Recent domestic electoral setbacks have hurt her party and coalition which seemed to have shaken Merkel’s confidence to continue in office. The rise of the rival Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD) party since 2013, also forced Merkel to cease control and “open a new chapter”.

Often named as the most powerful woman in the world and all of Europe, Merkel was born as Angela Dorothea Kasner in the city of Hamburg, Germany on 17th July 1954. She is the eldest of three siblings to a pastor father and a teacher mother. Since her childhood, she developed a deep interest in mathematics, physics, chemistry, the Russian language and was awarded the 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 political movement and party, Democratic Beginning (Demokratischer Aufbruch, DA) in December 1989. In April 1990, DA merged with the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) where she served as a deputy spokesperson under the caretaker government under the premiership of German politician Lothar de Maizière. Post the unification of East and West Germany, Merkel stood for elections in the first election post the fall of the Berlin Wall in the federal elections in December 1990. Impressed by her win from the constituency of Stralsund-Nordvorpommern-Rügen, newly elected German Chancellor Helmut Kohl appointed her as the Minister of Women and Youth (1991-94) and Minister for Environment (1994-98) in his cabinet. In a male-dominated political party, Merkel struggled her way to the top often ceding control, on challenging the incumbent government, to male members of her party. Eventually, she became the Leader of Opposition in the German parliament, the Bundestag (Reichstag) from 2002-2005 and clashed with the ruling German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder on domestic and global affairs. In a closely contested election between CDU and Schröder’s SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany or Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), Merkel was successful in forming a coalition with her rival and after hectic negotiations, was declared the next German Chancellor and took the oath of office on 22nd November 2005.

In her legacy as Chancellor, she established the firm grounds that made Germany the driving force of Europe as its largest economy. She carefully negotiated Germany through the troubled waters of unemployment, the 2008 Financial Crisis, the European Debt Crisis, the Refugee Crisis, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Brexit, and Covid-19 pandemic relief. When she took office, the unemployment rate in Germany stood at 11.6% whereas, in 2021, it plummeted to a low of 5.6%. Her critics argue that she did not have a great vision for Germany and only ended up managing Germany rather than leading it which was diagrammatically opposite to her popularity in international politics. Her support for the Greek bailout was not viewed favorably domestically. Her restrained and boring style of leadership also drew in criticism though she was applauded globally for her problem-solving skills and her exemplary role as a crisis manager and a miracle maker.

With a firm hand on the future of Germany, Merkel took a keen interest to establish the supremacy of Germany in the European Union and cultivated relationships with top leaders of the world. Angela can boast of working with two Indian Prime Ministers, four American Presidents, four French Presidents, and five British Prime Ministers since she took the oath of office in 2005, an impressive track record with few parallels. She nurtured a carefully crafted relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin (her fluency of Russian came in handy) which other world leaders found difficult to establish. She worked like a breeze with Bush and Obama crafting closer ties with the United States and had an easy rapport with leaders of the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, and Italy.

India and Germany have been strong partners in varied fields of strategic cooperation. Though Germany has invested in very few stakes in Asia, it has considered India a strategic partner, and 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. Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh summed up the gist of strong relations between India and Germany in his inter-governmental consultations state visit joint press conference (2013) warmly remarking “Our relationship draws strategic strength from our shared values, sensitivities to each other aspirations, a comprehensive bilateral relationship and growing international engagement. The high level of the bilateral relationship in recent years has substantially and tangibly raised the quality of our cooperation across a broad range of issues. Economic ties have been defining feature of our relationship”, inviting Germany to invest in the rapidly growing Indian economy.

Dr. Singh first met Merkel for the India-Germany bilateral summit in Berlin from 22nd to 24th April 2006 to reaffirm the Strategic Partnership of Germany and India and to build upon the 'Agenda for the Indo-German Partnership in the 21st Century. 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.

Traveling only within Europe in her first year as Chancellor, Merkel visited India for the first time from 29th October to 1st November 2007, with follow up visits on 31st May 2011, 4th to 6th October 2015, and for the last time as Chancellor from 31st October to 2nd November 2019. In this last visit, India and Germany issued a joint statement outlining the "Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Growth and a Reliable International Order” calling for further cooperation in “jointly driving the digital transformation through innovation and frontier technologies, especially artificial intelligence, making economic growth sustainable by cooperating on climate change, creating space for people to people contacts through legal mobility for skilled labor, and contributing to a reliable international order by strengthening and updating multilateral institutions” and called for greater collaboration “during the Indian G20 Presidency and the German G7 Presidency in 2022.”

Merkel joined hands with India to push for reforms of the UN Security Council and challenge 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.

As the world reflects on her towering tenure in her last week as German Chancellor, Angela Merkel who is fondly called as “Mutti” (mummy) by her German followers for her maternal care during the refugee crisis 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”.  Her tenure has given Germany a stable economy and a critical voice to Europe. In her reign, she modernized and liberalized Germany from its conservative past and drove the country in a fresh direction in sync with the changing times. Nations around the globe and European Union, in particular, are keenly awaiting the election outcome on 26th September 2021 on the possible successor of Angela Merkel who will step into her giant shoes as German Federal Chancellor.