The recent hype created about PM Modi’s visit to USA and the cacophony about AUKUS and QUAD has drowned out and overshadowed a seminal event taking place in Europe, the German national elections.
The geopolitical ramifications of the result would be immense as it would mark the end of the 16-year reign of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She had announced in 2018 that she would not be running for the Chancellery again. The results showed that the Social Democrats have won the majority of the votes and the people of Germany have to accept the departure of Angela Merkel as fait accompli. The curtains would come down on one of the most celebrated and admired political figure of our times and her incredible journey from a research scientist to a loved head of state.
Angela Dorothea Merkel was born on July 17, 1954 in Hamburg, then in West Germany. She later moved to Templin in East Germany where she grew up and spent her childhood years and finished her schooling. She has two siblings Marcus Kasner and Irene Kasner, Kasner being the family surname which Angela changed after marrying Ulrich Merkel, a fellow physicist in the year 1977; they divorced in the year 1982.
She was a very bright student. She was very proficient in Russian language which she could speak fluently and mathematics. After completing her schooling, she studied Physics at Karl Marx University, Liepzig. In the year 1986, she was awarded a doctorate for her thesis on quantum chemistry. East Germany being a communist country, Angela Merkel had a fairly early brush with communism when she joined the Free German Youth movement conducted by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany in 1968. This was her initiation into politics.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent German reunification was a watershed moment in European politics. It also provided the mental impetus and raison d’etre for Angela Merkel to join politics as it opened new vistas for the people of Germany and new opportunities in politics too. She joined the Democratic Awakening which after German reunification merged with East German Christian Democratic Union in April 1990. Subsequently, this combined entity merged with its western counterpart and participated in the German federal elections held for first time after reunification.
Angela Merkel for the first time contested elections and got elected to Bundestag as a representative of the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommem. The then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was her political mentor who made her the minister for women in the federal cabinet, a post she held from 1991 to 1994. In the year 1994 she got promoted as Minister for Environment and Nuclear Safety giving her wider recognition as an upcoming politician.
Following the defeat of her party in the 1998 general election, Angela Merkel was appointed as secretary-general of the CDU. This gave her an opportunity to play a more prominent role in party affairs. In the course of time, scandals were exposed regarding funding of the party involving the top echelons of the party including Helmut Kohl. Angela Merkel publicly criticized Kohl notwithstanding the fact the he was her political mentor. This catapulted her into political stardom thrusting her into the main political arena.
Fending off all opposition and inner party squabbling successfully, she eventually was elected as the leader of CDU on April 10, 2000 becoming the first female leader in German politics to head a political party. She became the leader of opposition in the Bundestag from 2002 to 2005. As leader of opposition, Merkel stood for a pro-market economic policy and labor reforms.
On the foreign policy front, she advocated a more stronger relationship with America and overall a more closer transatlantic engagement. Going against public opinion, she supported the invasion of Iraq by USA and opposed the accession of Turkey to the European Union and preferred a “special relationship.”
Following the general election of 2005 which resulted in a stalemate, she managed to cobble together a coalition with an agenda quite contrary to her stand on issues and was sworn in on November 22, 2005 as the first female Chancellor of Germany. The rest as they say is history. Her main agenda was to reduce unemployment in Germany which she did quite successfully. This eventually brought her back to power in 2009 with better numbers.
She went on to win the next election as well and this winning streak continued till 2021. She thus ended up becoming the first and the longest-serving female Chancellor in German history with an unbroken spell of 16 years. She has many firsts to her credit.
Throughout her tenure she was seen as the de facto leader of the European Union. She became a firm advocate of the EU investing her own political capital to rescue it in times of distress and saved the Eurozone. She withstood Brexit. She forged stronger ties with America and had a cordial relationship with all the American Presidents that got elected while she was the Chancellor. She handled the financial crisis of 2008 very well.
She ensured that all the Syrian refugees who came to Germany in 2015 were welcomed and looked after even though initially there was huge resistance to this. She also stepped up to the challenge posed by the Corona virus in 2020. Whatever the challenge Germany faced, she was there as a shield to protect her country. She did this with deft diplomacy and meticulous planning and management.
The Germans are so used to seeing Merkel at the helm of affairs for so long that they cannot imagine life without her. Generations of young Germans have grown up watching her as the Chancellor. She shaped European politics like no other. During her stint, she saw eight Italian Prime Ministers, five British Prime Ministers, four French Presidents and four US Presidents.
She did come to India on a three-day visit and met with Prime Minister Modi. She supported India’s stand that Article 370 was an internal matter but expressed concerns over the detention of locals during the abrogation of the article. She extended her support to technological partnership with India on renewable energy, agriculture, hi-tech and defense. PM Modi described her as a good friend of India.
Overall, her politics was about sobriety, more substance than noise and she personified the quintessential German quality of quiet efficiency. It is a retirement well earned and well deserved. There are very few people who become an enigma in their life time. Merkel is one of them. Adios dear Angela, Europe and the world will miss you.