Angela Merkel stepped down as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and declared she will not run for Chancellor in 2021.
This all occurred at the end of last year when Merkel and her party were elected into office for a fourth consecutive term. While Merkel may have won the elections, the CDU and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), saw a decrease in votes. Its popularity rates fell from 41.5% to 34.5%.
At the same time, a far-right party, the Alternative for Germany (AFD), went from winning no seats in the 2013 elections to getting ninety-four seats. Claiming responsibility for CDU’s weak performance during the elections and the rise of the far-right movement, Merkel decided that she should no longer be the leader of Europe’s most influential country.
With that being said, over the last thirteen years, Merkel has been advocating for peace, security, and prosperity on both national and international scales. So with her political career coming to an end, it is only fair to look back at some of Merkel’s achievements.
In 2005, when Merkel was first elected as a chancellor, Germany was perceived as an economic burden on the EuroZone and was labeled “the sick man of Europe.” Unemployment was as high as 11.5%, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had only grown by 1% in the last four years. Merkel managed to revitalize the German economy. Germany’s budget is “back in the black” meaning that there are more profits than losses, unemployment rates have halved, exports are booming, accounting for 46% of Germany’s GDP and the manufacturing sector is strong once again, accounting for 17% of German exports.
Merkel has also created an economy that is environmentally friendly. Under her administration, the use of coal decreased from 48.1% to 38.3%, and the use of renewable resources has increased from 10.5% to 34.8%. Turning to greener energy has not only created more employment opportunities for Germans but is also helping with the fight against climate change, a problem that affects the entire world.
Merkel managed to make Germany an economic powerhouse. In fact, other EuroZone countries sought help from Merkel’s government when the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) occurred in 2008. During that time, Germany was able to withstand the economic challenges and escaped the GFC relatively unscattered. However, the same could not be said for the rest of Europe. Countries like Greece were hit hard by the economic crisis and failed to recover in the aftermath. Since Greece is also a part of the European Union (EU), its economic demise had serious ramifications on the Euro. Therefore, the EU turned to its most powerful economy, Germany, to help stabilize the currency. Merkel, on her part, called for extreme spending cuts by the Greek government in exchange for loans from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These polices were not popular within Greece that is still recovering from the GFC eleven years later. However, Merkel’s rigid approach did save the country from bankruptcy, salvage the value of the Euro and maintain the EU’s status as one of the most powerful economies in the world.
While her economic policies were tough, Merkel had a much kinder approach towards immigration. In 2015 Europe was confronted with a Migration crisis. Thousands of people from Northern Africa and Syria were arriving each day by boat. During this time there was a rising nationalistic sentiment, countries like Sweden, Poland, and Hungary enforced strict anti-immigration policies. Instead of following suit, Merkel took a more liberal and humane approach by welcoming one million immigrants into Germany. This noble move saw her win Time’s Person of the year and gain appraisal from the United Nations. German citizens were initially supportive of the open border policy. However, the Cologne attacks did alter many Germans’ views on the issue.
On New Year’s Eve, 2015 thousands of sexual assaults were committed against women in Cologne. Perpetrators were described as men of African and Middle Eastern descent and were seen traveling in groups. Those on the far-right blamed Merkel’s open border policy for these events which triggered a decline in public support for letting immigrants into Germany from 33% to 18%.
Despite the shift in public opinion on immigration policy, Merkel stood by her decision. In 2017 she visited an asylum seeker center in Heidenau, East Germany, where a crowd of angry right-wing extremists were protesting outside. While they accused their chancellor of being a traitor of their nation, Merkel addressed the crowd and said, “There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people. There is no tolerance of those who are not ready to help, where, for legal and humanitarian reasons, help is due.”
It is well known that Merkel is not a “flag waving feminist.” In 2017 at the G20 summit, a moderator asked guests whether they called themselves ‘a feminist.’ Angela Merkel, the world’s most powerful woman in politics, did not raise her hand.
During her political career, many journalists and political commentators criticized Merkel for not embracing the feminist label and accused her of not doing enough to promote women. Yet, the legislation she had passed during her time as chancellor would suggest otherwise. Her government implemented a quota which required 30% of supervisory boards of large companies to be made up of women. Merkel also funded the expansion of early childhood centers and introduced incentives for companies to hire more women. The results of these polices is a 70% increase in women joining the workforce, the highest number in the industrialized world.
Merkel has also been making progress on changing the perception of women in politics, especially within her own party. When Merkel joined the CDU party in 1990 she was referred to as “the girl” by former leader Helmut Kohl. Merkel was never expected to accomplish anything within the male-dominated party and was never seen as a threat to Kohl’s leadership.
However, Merkel quickly rose through the ranks and became the CDU’s leader in 2000, following Kohl’s party funding scandal. Leading a party mainly made up of conservative males was a hard task. Many of her party members were not happy with Merkel’s appointment. Rather than supporting their new leader, they tried using her gender against her. She was called ‘Mutti’, German for mother, as an insult, an implication that Merkel was too weak and too emotional to lead.
Despite their efforts to undermine Merkel, she would lead the CDU to victory at the 2005 general elections and become the first female chancellor of Germany. Portraying herself as a calm collected leader who could make the tough calls when needed, Merkel was able to quickly quash the idea that she could not lead because she was a woman.
Given how effective Merkel was as a leader, more women rose to prominent positions of power within Germany. Currently, seven out of sixteen positions in Germany’s federal cabinet are held by women, including roles like Minister of Justice and Minister of Defence.
Furthermore, the CDU have elected Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace Merkel as their new party leader. Like Merkel, Kramp-Karrenbauer is a female politician who shares similar values as her predecessor. By electing Kramp-Karrenbauer over a charismatic millionaire and constant rival to Merkel, Friedrich Merz CDU has illustrated that Merkel has successfully removed gender barriers within her own party.
While Merkel will mainly be remembered for her austerity and open border policies, we should also celebrate the progress she has made for women in politics.