Auf Wiedersehen: From debt crisis to the coronavirus pandemic, Angela Merkel stood strong against it all

After 16 years of raising Germany’s profile, working to hold a fractious European Union together and being a role model for women, Angela Merkel has officially left office

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a red rose as she leaves the Defence Ministry during the Grand Tattoo (Grosser Zapfenstreich), a ceremonial send-off for her in Berlin. AFP

After 16 long years, outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel is handing over to Olaf Scholz next week, and was awarded a military tattoo in her honour, the highest tribute to a civilian.

The end of her reign was marked with a brass band playing three songs of Merkel’s choice.

Merkel remains caretaker chancellor until her successor, the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, is sworn in next week. She wished him and his new centre-left government all the best, good luck and much success.

The long-time leader also urged her audience to always see the world through the eyes of others too and to work with joy in your hearts.

As we bid farewell to the powerhouse, here are some highlights of her 16-year-long rule.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, emerged from the shadows and assumed centre space on 22 November 2005 when she became Germany’s first woman chancellor. Interestingly, she began as a physicist, and entered politics in her mid-30s when communism crumbled. In her 16 years of ruling Germany, she has outlasted four United States presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers and eight Italian prime ministers including Silvio Berlusconi, who once called her an “unf***able lard ass.”

Merkel has had to fight great sexism and initially wasn’t taken seriously by other world leaders. But, her hardwork has paid off. From being called “das Madchen,” German for “the girl”, she transformed into “die Mutti,” a mother figure.

In 2010, Merkel became a dominant figure in shaping Europe’s response to the debt crisis that unfolded in Greece in 2009.

Merkel and her then Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble demanded painful budget cuts and tax hikes in Greece in return for backing three international rescue packages worth more than 300 billion euros ($320 billion).

The tough stance saw her vilified as Europe’s heartless austerity queen and caricatured in Hitler’s uniform.

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File photo of a protester holding a placard of German Chancellor Angela Merkel featuring a Hitler moustache near the Greek parliament in Athens in 2012. AFP

She has also been a staunch defender of keeping the European Union together, gaining her the title of ‘Crisis Manager of Europe’. She also steered the European bloc through Brexit. Mind you, while UK saw the resignation of two prime ministers — David Cameron and Theresa May — during Brexit, she remained steadfast and continued grinding down and working hard.

If her diplomatic and economic prowess wasn’t enough, she also displayed her compassionate and humane side on the matter of refugee and migrant crisis.

In September 2015, she welcomed people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in hopes of safety and a better life with open arms. She opted against shutting the German-Austrian border and welcomed the influx of migrants.
When the situation started unsettling Germans, she kept with her motto — “Wir schaffen das” (“we can do it”).

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File photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel talking with refugee children at a preschool, during a visit to a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep. AFP

She has pushed — to little avail — for more help from other European countries in sharing the burden, and insists that the crisis can only be solved through patient diplomacy.

Merkel has handled crisis after crisis, but none have been bigger than the coronavirus pandemic.

From the very beginning, Merkel acknowledged that coronavirus was an “imposition on democracy.” In her September 2020 video podcast, she focused on defending democratic values at a time of crisis. She repeatedly stressed that democratic principles guide her government’s coronavirus actions: transparency, expertise, communication, and the dignity of individual life.

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A cyclist rides past a giant billboard featuring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hands in a trademark pose in Berlin. AFP

But after initially having success against the infection, the country became a victim of its own success.

As Kai Arzheimer, a political science professor at the University of Mainz noted in CNN, that Merkel struggled against politicians’ reluctance to re-introduce lockdown measures.

With her exit, the question that all are asking is ‘Who’s going to replace (Merkel), and will that person have the same charisma and ability that she did?’

We, along with the world have to wait and watch if the void left by ‘Mutti’ will be filled as Europe’s future depends on it.

With inputs from agencies

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