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Opinion: Germany’s Angela Merkel, an ex-chancellor from another era

  • October 03, 2022

Last week, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel attended two public events. She met the current leader of the Christian Democrats, Friedrich Merz — a man she deeply dislikes — at the Helmut Kohl Foundation. Also that week, Merkel held a speech in the northern German city of Goslar in honor of the towns 1,100-year-anniversay. These events were predictably unspectacular. And, unsurprisingly, Merkel said nothing truly ground-breaking.

This is, however, surprising, given that many once regarded Merkel as the savior of the free West, especially when US President Donald Trump controlled the White House.

Merkel recently announced she will publish her memoirs in autumn 2024.

Apart from this, the woman who governed Germany for 16 years has largely kept out of the public eye.

Hardly anyone is asking Merkel for advice

This is clearly her choice. Merkel is sticking to her pledge, keeping to herself, as she has no need for the limelight. Yet so much has happened in the 12 months since the last general election that it feels as if Merkels tenure ended light years ago.

DW’s Jens Thurau

Hardly anyone is asking her advice on the worrying state of world affairs, presumably also because one cannot help feel she left her successor Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democrats, and his coalition government to sort out a big mess when she left. 

For a decade and a half, Merkel did nothing to reduce Germanys dependence on Russian energy. Merkel failed to lead Germany into the digital age. During her tenure, underfunding wreaked havoc on German infrastructure and public institutions. And in 2015, she kindly opened German borders to refugees, mainly of them Syrian, yet failed to work out how to better manage long-term immigration.

No inconveniences, please

The way the German government and Merkel’s own party, the Christian Democrats, see her now has changed over the past year. Few still laud her trademark calmness, modesty and pragmatism. While she is not accused of making wrong political decisions per se, many do take issue with all the matters she failed to address.

Sure, blaming Merkel for having misjudged und underestimated Russian President Vladimir Putin is a cheap shot to make. After all, almost all Western politicians made this mistake. But one can rightly criticize her attitude of having wanted to spare Germans any inconvenience. These care-free times, after all, are over.

Merkel’s politics lacked courage

Speaking at the opening of the Helmut Kohl Foundation in Berlin this week, she said one must take Putinseriously, and think about what will follow when the war ends. These comments sound like they stem from an old, forgotten era. Nobody is underestimating the belligerent Russian president anymore, that is certain. And what point is there in thinking about the post-war era, what should anyone discuss with Putin, who has just launched a ‘partial military mobilization’ in Russia?

Maybe, one day, historians will look kindly on Merkels legacy, especially if Germany succeeds in weathering this severe crisis — the biggest since World War II. Germany has radically changed in the months since Merkel left office. German society and German businesses are deeply concerned about the future. While Merkel is not to blame for this anxiety, a more courageous approach could have paid off.

This article was originally written in German.

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