Merkel's biographers credit her patience with her political success, but say German politics is moving on from her brand of 'big tent' coalition governance.
UNITED NATIONS — Bowing to increasing political pressure after her ruling party suffered defeats in weekend elections, Angela Merkel said Monday that she intends to step down as German chancellor when her term ends in 2021.
Merkel has seen it all since took she over as chancellor in 2005, managing relationships with three U.S. presidents, responding to numerous E.U. crises and strengthening Germany’s economic and political influence all the while.
“If you want to phone Europe, if you want to talk to somebody who makes all the decisions in Europe, she is the one.”
Matthew Qvortrup teaches political science at Coventry University and is the author of 2016’s “Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader.”
Qvortrup credits Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker, for countering Russia in recent years without raising military tensions.
“She’s the one who stopped Vladimir Putin in his tracks. Previously it would have been France or Britain — countries with weapons and armies and so on. She goes there and she showed Vladimir Putin that ultimate economic power is stronger than nuclear weapons and tanks. That will be one of her legacies.”
Georgetown University’s Eric Langenbacher, author of “The Merkel Republic: An Appraisal,” credits Merkel’s patience for her success.
“She lets other people make mistakes, she waits until they show their hand, and then she pounces and makes policy.”
But she broke from that strategy of leading from behind by admitting more than a million refugees in recent years. That move was backed by German industry, which faces a major labor shortage, but lost her support from immigration hardliners, who have since made significant political gains.
Merkel remains popular, though her brand of practical coalition governance looks increasingly passe.
“A lot of her internal party critics criticize her for veering away from an ideological profile. Maybe one of the reasons she’s losing power now is that she doesn’t have that kind of ideological vision that so many people seem to be craving in this day and age.”
Although Merkel may soon be a “lame duck” leader by the American definition, Qvortrup thinks her doubters — domestic and foreign — shouldn’t count her out just yet.
“For those people who sort of show a schadenfreude — that favorite German word among English speakers — I think many are in for a rough ride. Donald Trump, for example, if he says, well we’re going to get much easier deals from Germany now that she’s stepping down. I think that’s less likely to be the case. To start writing her political obituary is very premature.”