Millions of people are preparing to head to the polls for the German election with the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), currently in a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in a desperate fight to retain hold on power. Recently-elected CDU leader Armin Laschet, who is taking over from Angela Merkel, is pushing for an unlikely absolute majority by winning at least 300 seats in the Bundestag (German parliament) and improve on the party’s current total of 245 seats.
But despite the focus being on the German election, the result and how the formation of a new Government will pan out over the coming weeks and months, much of the attention will be on the departing Chancellor.
In 2018, Mrs Merkel announced she would not seek a fifth term as Chancellor and her longevity is memorable – among democratic Germany’s post-World War II leaders, she is only behind Helmut Kohl, who led the country from 1982 to 1998.
She took over the reins in Germany in November 2005 and has been an incredibly popular Chancellor ever since, with her approval rating among the German people regularly jumping above 80 percent.
In that time, the outgoing Chancellor has overseen and successfully navigated the country through some of the most testing time both it and the European Union have ever experienced.
During her 16 years as Chancellor, she has faced a series of international crises, most notably the global financial crisis in 2007 that hit Europe particularly hard, as well as the ensuing Greek financial crisis, which saw the Southern European country teeter close to economic collapse.
Mrs Merkel has also been at the centre of navigating Germany and Europe through the long-running migrant crisis that came to light in 2010, the violent conflicts in Libya and Syria, conflicts with the US administration under former President Donald Trump.
Most recently she has overseen the Covid pandemic and subsequent recovery while being an influential voice in the controversial withdrawal of thousands of troops from Afghanistan.
The outgoing German Chancellor was also seen as vital for the EU in Brexit negotiations with the UK, who had been led by two different Prime Ministers in that time – Theresa May and Boris Johnson.
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When asked what her most underrated quality is, he told Politico’s Playbook: “She has listened to everyone — small, medium, big countries, she never made any distinction.
This also explains her influence in the EU.”
The former European Commission President added Mrs Merkel “always followed the domestic political debate in other countries more closely” than other leaders.
He said: “That was her European political charm, that everyone had the impression that you could tell her things the way they are at home, and she wove that into the overall web of European solutions to which she contributed.”
Francois Hollande, who was French President between 2012 and 2017, recently told a documentary by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle entitled ‘Angela Merkel — Navigating a World in Crisis’: “Angela Merkel will be remembered as a great European stateswoman.
“She kept the European Union together — despite the numerous crises we experienced.”
Tony Blair, who served as UK Prime Minister for a decade from 1997 until 2007, also said: “It is still a remarkable achievement to hold Europe together in this most difficult set of years Europe went through.”