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The age of Merkel 

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In her last 12 months as Chancellor, Angela Merkel registered record approval ratings in five countries outside of Germany. A major study by Pew Research Center in October 2020 found that a median of three-fourths of the populations in 14 countries across the world trusted the four-term leader on world affairs. 

A powerful advocate for international cooperation, Merkel emerged as the de facto EU leader and a formidable force in the G7. As President of the European Council in 2007, she was a driving force behind the Treaty of Lisbon which strengthened the European Parliament and introduced new checks and balances to the mechanisms of the EU. 

A committed internationalist, Merkel was a voice of reason in a wave of global crises, from the Recession of the 2008 and the euro currency emergency that followed to the refugee situation from the Syrian civil war and the European response to Covid-19. 

Wearing her hair in an iconic short crop and her suits in muted tones, the German Leader often cut a figure as a media-shy politician; quite ironic since she started out as a spokesperson for the East German Government after the 1989 Revolutions. Nevertheless, her voice resounds far and wide and she has defended her most controversial decisions with conviction. 

Facing strong disapproval for accepting a million refugees from Syria in the wake of the catastrophic civil war, Merkel stood firm on her policy, saying it was the right thing to do. Her resoluteness earned her fierce critics, but respect across the board. 

In one of her first interviews after winning the 2005 elections, the then Chancellor-in-waiting declared her goal to rebuild Germany’s economy in the world and prepare the country for the 21st century. At the end of her term, Germany has established itself as the engine of the European economy, nearing full employment and a hotbed of innovation. 

The politically cautious Chancellor gave rise to German uncomplimentary neologism ‘merkeln’ – to sit on the fence. But as domestic and global affairs became increasingly enmeshed, Merkel showed greater decisiveness on issues such as Eurobonds in the time of the pandemic or the climate change agenda. 

Detractors argue that, under Merkel’s stewardship, the country’s economy grew too dependent on China and that her accelerated shift away from nuclear power was short-sighted. Her pursuance of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has caused jitters among friends from the US to the Baltic states to Ukraine. But Merkel downplays the geopolitical implications of relying on Russian energy to a significant extent. 

In 2005, Merkel became the first Chancellor from the former Eastern States but, as she famously remarked, that momentous event was eclipsed by the fact that she was the first woman to lead the Bundesregierung. In her 16 years at the helm, she inspired millions of girls and women to seek public office and ruffle the feathers. Although the Merkel frequently said that her gender is irrelevant to the work she does, she also acknowledged the historical step of her election. Girls in Germany will now know that they can become a hairdresser or a Chancellor, she once affirmed. 

Widely regarded as the most powerful woman in the world, Merkel struck a sympathetic chord with citizens in many countries. She lives in a modest apartment in Berlin with her husband and she claims to cook the same potato soup as she did when they first married. An uncharismatic leader in a world of flamboyant politicians, the former scientist has jealously guarded her image as an ordinary person. 

Mutti, as Merkel is affectionately referred to, has time and again sought the stage just as everyone else seemed to go into hiding. Her extraordinary ability to identify the big challenges early on and meet them with a firm position cultivated her leadership and, against a populist backdrop, Merkel emerged as the personification of the moral imperative.

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