The elections in Germany on September 26, 2021 brought to an end Angela Merkel’s 16 consecutive years as Chancellor. Her approach to management of affairs of state and international issues was characterized by mastery of the facts, credibility, avoidance of statements or actions that could encourage extreme positions, and an effort to reach a broad consensus. At the same time, her policies lacked overall strategy and vision, and displayed unwillingness to take electoral risks. Thus Merkel will be remembered as one who managed crises, rather than as one who resolved them. On Israel, Chancellor Merkel will be remembered for her stress on responsibility for the security of Israel as an integral part of Germany‘s “reason of state” that is non-negotiable. Merkel’s very positive image among the Israeli public (compared to Israel’s problematic image among the German public) is partly explained by her avoidance of public criticism, apart from disapproval of settlement policy in the West Bank, which in her opinion does not help secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Seen from Moscow, Angela Merkel’s long tenure was a period of relative, if not always palatable, predictability in German-Russian relations. The future of the relationship will depend in no small measure on who succeeds her and how skilled that successor is at the art of statecraft. Merkel is leaving behind very big shoes to fill.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, Sydney, 17 November 2014 (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Angela Merkel had already been Chancellor for about six months when I commenced as Australian Ambassador to Germany in April 2006. Her tenure as Germany’s head of government has seen four further Australian heads of mission take up residence in Berlin, and the Australian prime ministership change hands seven times. Her term doesn’t actually finish with the weekend’s elections – the coalition building process could take weeks or even months, and she will continue on in the meantime. But the end is finally in view. Her retirement will require some adjustment for Germans themselves – particularly those in their early twenties or younger who have no memory of any other national leader. The international community will also need to adapt. Australia will join a long queue of countries seeking to establish a productive relationship with her successor.
In 2019, Angela Merkel’s government presented its ‘climate protection law’, a series of arguably ambitious measures, which put Germany on track to reduce its net carbon emissions by 65 percent within 2030, and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, activists and advocacy groups nevertheless expressed frustration at what they perceived to be an unsatisfactory, insufficient set of policies. In response to her critics, Merkel, with her characteristic sobriety, simply stated: “Politics is all about what is possible”.
Angela Merkel has been Germany’s chancellor through a series of massive crises. Ahead of the September 26 elections, Constanze Stelzenmüller explains that the question of how Germany’s next leader will shape the country’s role as an anchor of Europe will have far-reaching consequences in a future in which crises are the new normal.
Chancellor Angela Merkel will leave active politics after the German federal elections on 26 September 2021. As Merkel’s departure after sixteen years will resonate across Europe, the Clingendael Spectator invited several international experts to offer their personal reflections on her legacy. In this seventh episode of the series ‘Europe after Merkel’, Anand Menon takes a UK perspective: the key lesson of the Merkel years is a chronic and repeated inability to understand the German chancellor.