15 October 2021

Foreign Affairs: “The Singular Chancellor”

Yet outwardly, the most striking thing about the chancellor remains her determined normalcy. Merkel’s clear, light voice carries the unhurried intonation of the pine-forested, sandy-soiled Brandenburg countryside northwest of Berlin, where her father was a Lutheran parson. Her working uniform consists of sensible flats, black pants, and an endless supply of hip-length jackets in every color. The chancellor and her husband, a retired chemistry professor, live in their old Berlin apartment rather than the official residence; the only visible security is a police officer in front of the building. To the approval of Berliners, Merkel is sometimes seen walking in the city center or shopping in a supermarket, trailed by her bodyguards.

Merkel’s interpreters have labored heroically to reconcile these paradoxes. The simple truth is that Merkel the level-headed empiricist has little patience for visions when there are problems to be solved. She has whipsawed on her principles for the sake of power, but she has also been willing to pay a price for standing up for her deepest convictions. Few of her peers have been able to accumulate so much political capital. Yet even her admirers concede that although she has been exquisitely adroit at riding out the currents of politics, she has been far too reluctant to shape them.

Constanze Stelzenmüller

As Angela Merkel prepares to end her final mandate as German Chancellor, an interesting overview of her most consequential decisions during this long tenure. Naturally, a newspaper article, however long, can hardly grasp everything that happened during the past 16 years, nor map out all the repercussions of these decisions – in fact, we may not recognize them in full for years.

Ms. Merkel with President Donald Trump at the White House in 2018
Ms. Merkel with President Donald Trump at the White House in 2018. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Some of the criticism that has recently surfaced revolves around how Germany is selling submarines to Turkey, who is using them against a fellow EU member Greece. There is also the quiet support for Viktor Orbán in the European Parliament, which allowed him to systematically erode democratic norms in Hungary and led to a complicated political situation for European institutions. As far as I’m concerned, the decommissioning of Germany’s nuclear power plants will likely be considered her biggest miscalculation retrospectively. And this goes to the heart of her management style: good for handling short-term crises, but potentially bad to solve long-term issues – which is a shame, considering how few democratically-elected leaders manage to remain in power for long, uninterrupted periods.

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