A few years ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she would not be running for another term after her current tenure ends in 2021. She stepped down as leader of the Christian Democrats with an emotional farewell address in December 2018. She has led her party for 18 years and won four national elections. Delegates at the party's conference in Hamburg gave her a ten-minute standing ovation. Last week, Merkel’s party firmly backed Armin Laschet to be the conservative bloc's chancellor candidate at Germany's upcoming elections in September 2021. Laschet’s election followed a bitter battle with challenger Markus Soeder, Minister-President of Bavaria since 2018 and Leader of the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU) since 2019. In Germany, there is a centre-right Christian-democratic political alliance of two political parties, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU) and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU).
Angela Merkel was born in Hamburg on 17 July 1954 as Angela Kasner. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, was given a parish in a small town in East Germany when she was only a couple of months old. She grew up outside East Berlin in a rural area. She got a doctorate in physics, before working as a chemist at a scientific academy in East Berlin. She became involved in East Germany’s democracy movement in 1989; worked as East German government spokeswoman following the first democratic elections; joined the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) just before Germany's reunification in 1990, and took the job of minister for women and youth under Chancellor Helmut Kohl a year later. She became leader of the CDU in 2000 and became Germany's first female chancellor in 2005.
The ratings of the conservatives in Germany have taken a beating in recent months over handling of the coronavirus pandemic after a rather successful control of the first wave. As Merkel bows out after 16 years in power, the conservatives' face a challenge with German elections in just about five months. Notwithstanding this challenge, Merkel has been a proud symbol of Germany over the last 16 years. During her tenure, she faced many crises. Not many recall the European debt crisis (often referred to as the eurozone crisis or the European sovereign debt crisis) a multi-year debt crisis that affected a number of European countries just a few years ago. Today, most of us would probably recall the calm and determined leadership of Angela Merkel during that crisis, often supporting unpopular decisions that caused hardships in parts of Europe. She remained a staunch supporter of a united Europe through challenges posed by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and the emergence of anti Europe voices in parts of European Union. As the leader of the largest economy in Europe, Merkel has invariably been the de facto leader of Europe, while steering Germany through the financial crisis and back to growth. Her leadership has been marked by her steely reserve, whether it was facing up to then US President Donald Trump or allowing more than a million Syrian refugees into Germany. An October 2020 survey found that 75% of adults in 14 European countries trusted Merkel more than any other leader in the region.
In the early years of her leadership, there would often be comments about her simple choice of clothes or her unmade up face; all through her years as German Chancellor, she dressed in similar clothes, her hair style did not change, and she continued to prefer the bare faced look. She’s known to live in the same apartment, didn’t acquire massive wealth, nor did her relatives climb the ladder to wealth and prominence. In one interview, she revealed that she and her husband did not have an array of helpers at home and the couple managed their work between them. This simplicity and commitment has earned her the gratitude and respect of the German people, despite navigating through some tough challenges during her sixteen years as Chancellor.
Merkel worked to build good relations with India, chairing the first Indo-German Inter- governmental meeting in 2011 with then Indian PM. The mechanism was like a joint mini cabinet meeting and provided opportunities to make progress in a number of areas. I was at the meeting in 2013 in Berlin. I had a closer opportunity to observe her during a courtesy call on her by then External Affairs Minister of India. She came across as a calm and competent person, well grounded and confident of herself. There was no fanfare about her. Whoever succeeds her will have a tough act to follow. Given the crisis that the world faces today, strong leadership of Germany would remain important.