On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that she would be stepping aside before the national elections set for 2021, for the first time giving her nation a clear message that it would have to pick and new leader — and direction — since she took over in 2005. Merkel’s announcement is being driven primarily by the changing political landscape in Germany, where the Christian Democrat Union (CDU) she has led since 2000 has suffered a series of alarming setbacks in provincial polls since late September.
The CDU and its sister party in Bavaria, the CSU, have seen voter support plummet, and the most recent elections in the province of Hesse, where the financial centre of Frankfurt is key to Germany’s fiscal stability and economy, saw support for Merkel’s party reduced by 10 per cent. The CDU and the Social Democrats are being squeezed by Alternative for Germany (AfD) whose anti-Islamic and neo-fascist views are gaining populist support, while on the left, the Greens are resurgent as more voters seek to place the environment and progressive policies ahead of those offered by Merkel’s coalition.
But before her political critics write off Merkel, there is a reality and legacy that cannot be tarnished: She remains on course to be Germany’s longest-serving chancellor in both the Weimar Republic and post-Second World War periods, and has now led her party for 18 years. Those feats alone speak of her remarkable resilience and political staying power.
Her decision still means that she was a winner in federal elections in 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017 — and she had said previously that she would always decide the time of her leaving.
Her prudent political and economic policies have set Germany on course as the powerhouse of the European Union (EU) and a leader on the world stage — both in diplomatic and economic terms. At the height of the refugee crisis, Merkel became a beacon for those who believed in hope and humanity when she opened Germany’s doors to more than a million desperate and desolate refugees. Indeed, what a changed place the world would be if only other political leaders had her courage and tenacity to simply do the right thing.
At the EU level, Merkel has single-handedly saved the euro, the common currency used by 19 of the 28 EU states, and set the union on a course of fiscal reform, stronger for the future. She is a believer in the European project and committed to making sure the continent remains united despite its detractors. Having lived in a Germany divided by an Iron Curtain, Merkel is uncompromising on the principles of freedom that are at the very core of EU values. The defender of liberal democracy shall be sorely missed.