Angela Dorothea Merkel was born in 1954 in Hamburg, West Germany. Brought up in a politically active family, Merkel’s inclination towards politics, especially Marxism-Leninism was developed from an early age when she joined Free German Youth (FDJ), the official communist youth movement, which was advantageous for getting admissions for higher education. Academically, she earned a Ph.D. in Quantum Chemistry in 1986. Often referred to as the ‘Iron Lady’ or ‘the Iron Frau’, her contributions in modern politics have been unparalleled.
Merkel’s political career began after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 as she started getting involved in the growing democratic movements. She joined the newly established party the Democratic Beginning, which later got merged with the Eastern German Christian Democratic Union and later with the western counterpart after its reunification, and became its spokesperson. In June 1983, she was elected leader of the CDU in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
In 1990, Merkel was appointed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl to serve as the Minister of Women and Youth in the federal cabinet, and in 1994, she hold the position of Minister of the Environment and Nuclear Safety, which enhanced her political exposure and provided a platform to take her agendas forward. In 1998, as the Kohl Government was defeated in the 1998 election, Merkel held the position of the Secretary-General of the CDU. At the time, many political figures were caught for illegal fund handling that included CDU leaders, Merkel got the opportunity to advocate a fresh start for her party. She held the position of Chairperson of CDU from 2000-2018, being a female leader who is centrist Protestant in a male-dominated, socially conservative party.
In addition to being a CDU leader, she also became the leader of the Opposition from 2002-2005, through which she provided significant contributions regarding Germany’s economic and social system, She supported a substantial reform agenda that was more pro-market, advocated for labor law changes by, removing barriers to laying off employees and increasing the allowed number of work hours in a week and proposed phasing out of nuclear power in Germany less quickly than planned. She also advocated for a strong transatlantic partnership and German-American friendship. Although Merkel also faced criticism as her party introduced ‘flat tax’ in Germany which was considered to benefit only the rich, she was still popular and won the elections. In 2005, CDU went head-to-head with SPD(Social Democratic Party) and had a deal of Merkel becoming the Chancellor ad SPD holding 8 of the 16 seats in the cabinet.
Thereafter, Merkel remained the Chancellor of Germany from 2005 to 2021, leading four cabinets before she announced retiring from the position. As a chancellor of Germany, she led a grand coalition with the SDP for the cabinets. In these terms, she led Germany and Europe through some of the world’s major crises such as the global financial crisis of 2007-2008, the European Debt Crisis, and the European Migrant crisis in 2015. Her approaches in economic crisis management and bringing stability back has given her the name of the de facto leader of EU and ‘the leader of the free world’
In 2005, Germany had an unemployment rate of 11 percent and was frequently derided as the “sick man of Europe.” Two years later, the global financial crisis hit, sending several countries across Europe into a downward economic spiral. Merkel’s policies during the crisis along with her business-friendly approach in the years that followed transformed Germany into the fourth largest economy in Europe with a high standard of living, almost full employment, and historic budget surpluses. The Eurozone debt crisis wreaked havoc in certain European countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Cyprus as they were unable to repay or refinance their government debt. Merkel’s focus on saving the euro, bringing interests’ rates to zero, and providing bail-outs to struggling nations, navigated Europe through the crisis.
In 2015, the migration crisis peaked as 1.3 million refugees arrived with asylum requests, the largest number in a single year after World War II. Merkel’s pro-refugee stance helped the refugees to gain easier asylum in Europe by suspending the provisions that stipulated that asylum seekers must seek asylum in the first EU country they arrive. As much as her policies have been appreciated, they also faced criticism but in any way played a key role in shaping her legacy.
In her chancellorship, Merkel also brought significant reform in moving the socially conservative party towards centrism. She abolished military conscription, gave parents more flexibility when it came to taking leave for newborn children, and supported the introduction of a minimum wage. Her supporters also credit her for closing Germany’s 17 nuclear power stations and for the claim she made that Germany would transition away from nuclear energy by 2022, which seems practically ambitious, however, set under climate law formed in 2019.
Merkel being well known for her crisis management skills and maintaining a conflict-free sphere was also remarked well for her relationship management with Britain during Brexit and COVID 19 management approach.
As she steps down from chancellorship, it has marked an end of an era for Germany as well as European Union. Olaf Scholz from Social Democratic Party (SPD) was appointed as the chancellor of Germany on 8 December 2021.