From Helmut Kohl’s ‘little girl’ to the most powerful woman in the world
Abdulaziz Ahmet Yasar
Angela Merkel was Germany’s first-ever female chancellor, and she remained so for over 13 years. Not only will she be a major chapter in Germany’s history books, but she rose to become one of the world’s most influential leaders of the last decade.
That’s how fast things can change. As late as this morning, most German Christian Democrats believed that at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party conference in December the old leader would also be the new CDU leader: Angela Merkel. Half a day later, it is all but certain that Merkel will no longer take office.
However, the German chancellor wants to remain head of government until the end of the legislative period. Merkel has given the CDU the freedom of selecting new personnel, something that has seldom existed for the Christian Democrats, and paves the way for a new candidate for chancellor for the first time since 2002.
One thing is certain: nobody can predict how this might end. Merkel’s extraordinary and lengthy career will be remembered for a long time by German and European leaders. “I don’t want to be a half-dead wreck when I leave politics,” she had said before becoming chancellor, and lately Merkel, and her coalition, look tired.
Former CDU Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s ‘Little Girl’ (1990-2000) On January 18, 1991, the 36-year-old member of parliament Angela Merkel was sworn in as federal minister for women and youth in the cabinet by Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl. This was her first major political position.
Her term in office resulted in the Equal Opportunities Act, which aimed at improving the status of women professionals. Angela Merkel was also responsible for ensuring that every child in Germany has a legal right to have a place in a kindergarten – which was a major step forward for mothers and fathers in the West German Federal regions at the time. During this time she also attended the first UN Climate Conference in Berlin in 1995, which was the country’s first commitment to international CO2 reduction.
CDU Chairwoman and Oppositional Leader (2000-2005) Angela Merkel became deputy chairman of the CDU in 1991 and rose to take the lead the party by 2000. After the 2002 Bundestag elections, she also became chairwoman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.
As the leader of the opposition, she pushed through changes to the Schroder government economic reform plan, ‘Agenda 2010’, in parliament and was a part of the mediation process between the Bundestag and the Bundesrat (Federal Council of Germany). First female German chancellor (since 2005)
In the early Bundestag elections in September 2005, Angela Merkel beat then Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schroder. Just a few years after taking office, the financial crisis hit global markets, including the EU and Germany. One of her first major tests in office came in 2010 in the form of the European Debt Crisis, when several eurozone member states were unable to repay or refinance their government debt. Merkel’s policies and actions reacting to the crisis solidified Germany’s status as a central character, or primary leader, in the EU.
Budgetary discipline, solidarity and incentives for more growth were Merkel’s mantra. But she also paved the way for unconventional internal policies too. Following the Fukushima reactor disaster, the German government decided to entirely phase out nuclear energy.
In order to push ahead with the energy revolution, the expansion of the grid was accelerated and renewable energies were promoted by the CDU/CSU governments. Germany’s renewable energy production currently represents as much as 36 percent of its total energy production and the country aims to be at 65 percent by 2030. Wir schaffen das! (We can do it!) – was her slogan when it came to dealing with the European ‘refugee crisis’. When the civil war escalated in Syria, triggering a flood of refugees to Europe, Merkel became known as the “refugee chancellor”. She refused to close German borders, which earned her plaudits from civil society and leaders across the world.
In Germany, however, the number of her critics is growing – not only from the right-wing AfD, but also from within her own party. German conservatives and right-wing voters are increasingly dissatisfied with the CDU’s policies and have been slowly pushing for a change at the top. In her 19th year as party leader, Merkel repeatedly clashed with CSU leader Horst Seehofer.
For him, Merkel’s asylum policy has not been strict enough since 2015. The already tense relationship is suffering as a result. In 2018, the situation escalated into a political crisis when Seehofer demanded that Germany reject refugees at the border and Merkel refused. Seehofer offered his resignation and Merkel made several compromises to keep him in government, but the border remains open. Seehofer remains interior minister.
After 13 years as chancellor and 18 years as CDU leader, Merkel might be fatigued – something that could have been compounded by the strengthening of the right-wing AfD and the rise of right-wing populism across the world. After the Hessian election in October, in which the CDU lost more than ten percentage points, Merkel announced that she will no longer run as party leader.
That was the first half of a farewell speech; it was the great entrance into the great exit. Angela Merkel had repeatedly said in recent years that one of her most difficult decisions was to find the right time to stop. Now it looks like the Merkel era is finally coming to an end.