At the helm for 16 years, Angela Merkel exhibited a light touch. Germany prospered; in fact has been the most prosperous EU nation. After a thirty-year career in politics, she has decided to step down.
The contrast with the heavy-handed Xi Jinping in China is stark. His state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have muscled in on large corporations like Ali Baba, one of China’s biggest companies. Ali Baba has also been forced to divest many holdings.
All of which would be unthinkable in Merkel’s Germany. She is known as Mutti Merkel or just Mutti, the diminutive for mother (mutter in German) for her thoughtful and compassionate leadership. For example, Germany opened its doors to Syrian refugees and others. ‘Wir schaffen das’ meaning ‘We can do this’ became her rallying cry in speeches. Within a few weeks 10,000 refugees had arrived, and more were to come. Many in the general public opposed the policy but she won enough of them over. A million applied for asylum in 2015 and three-quarter million the following year. There have been some problems in absorbing such a huge influx. But all in all the country is managing.
Germany has also been climate conscious. It is a pioneer in renewable energy development and uses it for 40 percent of consumption. It has the world’s third highest capacity in wind power (59 GW) and generates the most photovoltaic energy (49 GW) of any country. As such it has become the first major renewable energy economy. It is also exploiting geothermal sources with 25 plants used for heating, five have combined usage delivering heat and electricity and four generate electricity only.
In line with the 17 UN sustainable development goals, Germany is focusing also on climate change mitigation (SDG13) and conservation of natural resources (SDG 14 and 15) in its national sustainable development strategy. In March 2021, the German cabinet updated this strategy to include employing international influence through development cooperation where and when it had leverage.
Angela Merkel has now served almost 16 years in office, just 82 days less than her mentor, Helmut Kohl, and is third longest serving — behind Kohl and Otto von Bismarck who was in office for almost 23 years. Quite a record for a research scientist thrust into politics by an accident of fate. If Bismarck master-minded the reunification of Germany in the 19th century, Merkel helped in the assimilation of East Germany within the far richer and more powerful western region. The difference between the two was obvious to any visitor in the 1990s.
Born in Hamburg, she moved to Perleberg when her father, a Lutheran pastor, was posted there. The town was in East Germany where she grew up. After the Berlin wall came down she entered politics, running for the Bundestag. Following a couple of ministerial posts, she became General Secretary, and later was elected party leader after a scandal toppled her predecessor.
Now she is off to the quiet pleasures of retirement.