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Angela Merkel: 30 Years as a Leader

Angela Merkel is stepping down as Germany's chancellor after 16 years in office, after the national election on September 26. The title of world's most powerful woman has been hers for 13 of the last 14 years. During some of these years, she was rated the second most powerful person on the planet. 

A Physicist who became a politician after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the daughter of a Protestant pastor in East Germany. Her rise to the political spotlight was then accelerated by former chancellor Helmut Kohl's backing.

Kohl began her career as a minister in the newly reunified Germany, which was desperate for lawmakers from the former GDR who had not previously collaborated with the East German state. Merkel performed admirably in that capacity. But she rapidly established that she was capable of more than just filling the quota of "female politician from the East."

A woman who is strong and determined, but she uses her strength to inspire rather than intimidate. She has the ability to unite people rather than pit them against one another. Her ability to provide the plain truth to her people, no matter what the circumstance, makes her stand out. Germany’s first female chancellor, Angela Markel, was elected in November 2005, and there was no turning back. There hasn't been a single moment when she hasn't stood firm since taking office.

Nevertheless, she has exceeded the expectations of many, perhaps even of those who believed in her that she would lead Germany and Europe in this manner.  In a world that is dominated by men, she set the pace for women to lead in ways that not many before her did.

Her role as the last defender of liberal international order was lauded during Donald Trump's administration; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dubbed her a "titan of diplomacy", and even left-leaning Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras, forced into years of austerity by Merkel, admires her "sincerity".

Achieving the status of the first woman leader of a powerful European country in itself is an impressive accomplishment because being the first in any field isn't easy. In order to be the first, one has to overcome a lot more obstacles than others. While she served as chancellor, she remained somewhat awkward, shy and stared up at the camera from below. Although this changed over time, some of the awkwardness persisted.

An opposing narrative of Merkel as an opportunist with no true political principles but a painting of Catherine the Great over her desk and a figurative knife beneath her desk to stab male competitors in the back has largely faded.

Under Merkel's leadership, Germans' views of their national economy have generally been more favorable than those of other Europeans and Americans.

Markel's ultimate expression as the last decent leader of the world is too good to be true. She did what many could only dream of, during crucial moments, she kept her own party, several large coalitions, and the EU united. Due to a boom based on German exports, she could always buy everyone's consent because money was plentiful during that time. Future historians will likely marvel at her crucial micro-political skills, but they may also conclude that she was uniquely positioned to do more on climate change - but she simply did not do so.

An Endearing Legacy of Her Political Career

Germany's politics have become more about policy than about politics, thanks to her.  The German political system used to be dominated by men. Under Ms. Merkel, the focus has shifted to more policy-oriented matters.

The issue is that it becomes fairly mechanical and scientific. With a PhD. in quantum chemistry, Ms. Merkel is trained as a physicist. As a result, for someone like her, she takes a very factual approach. It's not something you would do while barnstorming, She has, however, sparked a revolution in global politics as well as in German politics in her own unique way. She has attempted to depolarize politics at a time when it has become increasingly polarized by depoliticizing subjects.

Forbes has ranked Angela Merkel as the world's most powerful woman. In Germany, an entire generation has never known anything else than a female leader.

She has played a crucial role in bringing women to key positions, which has been a symbol of women's representation. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's first female defense minister and European Commission president, was among those she supported.

She has, however, been criticized at times for her role. In spite of such symbolic representation, it does not always translate into broader change, especially for women of color and LGBTQ+ people. In Germany, Muslim women are targeted and opponents of 'gender madness' are rallying both issues have become politicized, and Angela Merkel has largely avoided the topic.

The number of far-right groups and incidents of violence has significantly increased under her leadership. Four years after its founding, the far-right Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party entered the Bundestag as the third-largest party, raising many eyebrows.

Her legacy is a mix of modernization and backwardness. Most of these modernizing policies are not expected from a Christian Democratic chancellor, such as same-sex marriage and phasing out nuclear energy.

The country, however, is alarmingly lagging behind on major issues like digitalization, climate policy, and demographic shift.

Highlights of Her Tenure as Chancellor

Merkel has experienced more than her fair share of crises throughout her tenure.

One of her main achievements was rescuing the euro and dealing with the 2008 financial crisis. As a response to the crisis, she desired as much economic development as feasible while allowing for as much state intervention as was necessary.

It was in 2008 when Ms. Merkel and her finance minister addressed citizens and reassured them that their savings would be protected from a bank run. Both Merkel's politics and her personal role during the Eurozone debt crisis stand out.  Merkel promoted austerity as a means of reviving Europe's battered economy. A debt relief package for Greece was negotiated during the height of the Euro crisis in order to prevent the country from leaving the EU.

The refugee crisis was a pivotal moment. During 2015, Ms. Merkel presided over a humanitarian crisis in the Balkans by opening Germany's borders to almost a million refugees, proclaiming “we can manage this”, despite clear divisions in the country over the refugees.

Syria refugees fleeing the civil war only found refuge in a few countries in Europe, with Germany being the first to help them and taking in over one million refugees from the civil war

It is crucial to note that Chancellor Merkel did not open the border, as is commonly assumed, but instead chose not to close it. 

Several proclaimed Angela Merkel the new leader of the free world after Donald Trump's 2016 election victory, for her persistent defense of liberal Western democratic values against Trump's "America First" policy. She led the west in the most effective way possible, ensuring that there would be no more polarization. It was she who kept liberal internationalism muted during those years. 

She actually decided to run for a fourth term after former American President Barack Obama urged her to do so. Soon after Trump won the election, Merkel and Obama met in Berlin. Thus, she accomplished her duty while keeping the ship afloat.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paved the way for same-sex marriage to be approved by parliament in 2017.

The interview with a women's magazine took place just before the election. In the interview, she stated that voting on these matters was a matter of personal conscience. She effectively defied the party line, allowing the law to be passed after years of delay. She accomplished a great deal, that's for sure.

Final Thoughts

After 30 years in active politics and 16 years as the leader of the free world, her absence will surely leave a large hole, at least on the international stage and after such a long period of success.

Angela Merkel stood for stability and change not only for Germany but for the entire world. Throughout Merkel's political career, she maintained political stability and continuity, while navigating the transformations and upheavals of a reunified Germany.

She demonstrates humility and pragmatism in a variety of issues, including same-sex marriage and the refugee crisis. Her contribution to the strengthening of the European Union has been remarkable, and it is clear that she will leave a stronger EU in her wake. This is maybe to be anticipated from a woman who is recognized as a dependable, steady stalwart, the very definition of stability.

Written By: Olivium's Staff.


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