German Chancellor Angela Merkel Image Credit: AFP

Yesterday, some 60 million German citizens headed to the polls in a general election to elect a new federal parliament and decide who will lead Europe’s strongest economy for the next four years.

And for the first time in more than 16 years, there will be a new chancellor as Angela Merkel retires from office after four terms.

For many German voters, they will be voting for a new future, one where the former scientist from East German won’t be a commanding figure on the national stage.

At 67, she is retiring after being the longest-serving chancellor in modern German history and the de facto leader of the European Union too for much of that time.

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On the European and world stage, Merkel was a leader who seemed slow to act but in truth she carefully weighed options and build a coalition of those willing to compromise to find the most practical way forward.

Her oversight of the German economy has ensure that it emerged stronger and more dominant from a series of crisis that shook other, more debt-laden economies.

During the European Union’s debt crisis in the wake of the financial downturn of 2008, her careful management and persuasion prevented southern European nations going the ways of Greece, Ireland and Portugal in needing bailouts from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Throughout the fraught Brexit negotiations as the United Kingdom sought to unsettle European unity, Merkel was a voice of unity. And when it came to imposing measures against Russia for its actions in Ukraine and the Crimea, Merkel was a force of unity through compromise and practicality.

On the world stage, Merkel’s presence has been one of reason and resilience, having dealt with four US presidents, three French leaders and six UK prime ministers. While Germany may not be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Merkel’s 16-year tenure as chancellor ensured that Germany’s voice of reason and pragmatism was well heard.

Now, as Germany enters a new phase, so indeed does Europe and the echelon of world leaders. It is she who led the EU against the right-wind influences of Hungary and Poland, a reminder of the dangers that such ideologies cause. Her prudent easing of fiscal rules means that the EU can now rebuild from coronavirus.

But it is her humanity, her caring, her openness — she famously opened Germany’s doors to millions of refugees — that ought to be remembered. It was she alone who was the voice welcoming to those who were turned away by other nations. Yes, she will be sorely missed.