Angela Merkel was instrumental in dictating the course of not only Germany but also the European Union (EU) for almost a decade and a half. After becoming the leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in 2000, she went on to become the Chancellor of Germany in 2005. During her tenure, she oversaw Europe’s most powerful country during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, then the European debt crisis, and finally the surge of immigrants from some of the poorest, most troubled nations on earth. Her strong leadership during such tumultuous time was crucial for Germany’s economic success, although critics state that she catered to domestic political interest at the expense of broader European concerns. Nonetheless, the most powerful woman in today’s political landscape, Merkel announced that she would step down as Germany’s Chancellor in 2021.
Despite being the Chancellor of Germany, Merkel was widely described as the de facto leader of the European Union. She pushed forward Germany’s liberal rhetoric at an unprecedented pace, a decision that received appreciation from left-wing aficionados. Her decision to provide asylum to immigrants from war-stricken, impoverished countries was lauded not only by other western countries but also by the United Nations (UN). Her economic policies protected Germany’s massive wealth and thrived to help the economic status of poorer European countries. It was during this process, that she managed to magnify EU’s economic crisis, a large negative stamp on an otherwise positive term.
After Greece declared bankruptcy in 2011, Merkel took a hard stance against the southern European nation. She opposed debt forgiveness to the Greeks, as the primary lenders to Greece’s catastrophic explosion of borrowing were German banks. The decision would have resulted in them losing billions of euros, and Merkel took a hard nationalistic stance in the process. She also didn’t use Germany’s behemoth savings to bail out other debt-stricken nations in the aftermath of the European debt crisis, rather criticized them for a lack of work-culture. According to Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate economist at Columbia University, “The rhetoric that she used suggested that the crisis was caused by irresponsible behavior by Greece, rather than irresponsibility on the part of the lender.”
Her decision to embrace nationalism when economic factors were at stake undermined people’s faith in EU and has invoked an anti-establishment rhetoric in the continent. In Germany alone, voters abandoned the CDU in favor of the left-leaning Greens and the far-right, anti-immigration AfD. She announced her retirement to bring back support to the CDU and silence critics in her own party. As she opts out as the leader of CDU, other candidates such as party secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer as well as former rival Friedrich Merz will seek to become the next leader in the CDU party elections set for December, 2018.
As Europe sees a rise in authoritarianism from Hungary and Poland, an emergence of populism in Italy, and the nasty divorce of Britain and the EU – Merkel’s retirement is set to ensure a grave loss. She was a stalwart champion for the EU’s cohesion, and a leader in every sense of the world. At a time rife with dangerous tumult, the world is sure to lose a rare source of sober-minded leadership with her retirement.