Merkel: a leader the world should cherish
We criticize more than praise. Good news is not news. Sensationalizing everything to attract attention to income, the modern media is barely spinning to prove that free speech is an end in itself. But words don’t make sense if there is no action. Flaming or flowery rhetoric cannot mask the fact that most politicians have broken their promises. Therefore, we have to congratulate those leaders who seemed boring but played spectacularly and did it quietly and without fuss.
Angela Merkel is stepping down as German Chancellor after 16 years at the helm. If she leaves office at the end of this year, she would have broken the record of her mentor, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who served from 1982 to 1998. Kohl seized the historic opportunity to reunify Germany, but Merkel will be recognized in history as the centrist and pragmatic builder on this foundation. Lower leaders would have groped or wasted the opportunity.
This is no small feat for the only woman leader of the G7, if not the G20. Apart from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been the de facto leader since 1999, no one has served longer or faced more crises that have stumbled many of their male counterparts. Under his leadership, Germany consolidated its position as the world’s fourth-largest economy, as Japan rose from 2nd to 3rd, the United Kingdom from 4th to 5th, France from 6th to 7th and ‘Italy from 7th to 8th.
Merkel is also the most intellectually skilled of her peers, having earned a doctorate in quantum chemistry, but she is neither proud nor flashy. When asked why she often wore the same costume, she replied, “I am a government employee and not a model.”
Born in West Germany but raised in East Germany, she was the first female Chancellor, the first to be born after World War II and the first to be born in East Germany. Its centrist, pragmatic, cautious and discreet leadership was exactly what Germany needed during a difficult period of integration between the socialist East and the advanced western parts. His predecessor, Gerhard Schroder (1998-2005), led the coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Greens which refused to sign the invasion of Iraq. This period saw very difficult economic restructuring and challenges for German economic integration in the face of high labor costs and severe manufacturing competition from Japan and the Asian global supply chain.
But at the end of the Schroder period, the country was in need of healing, which Merkel provided.
The first big challenge was the global financial crisis of 2008, which hit Germany hard in terms of exports, but also through the enormous damage caused to the European banking system due to excessive investments in American financial derivatives as well as non-performing loans to southern European countries. . The 2008/2009 European debt crisis divided the European Union into weak debtors and strong creditors. Unlike the Asian economies in crisis in 1997/9, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain were unable to devalue their output, although the weakening of the euro and exports to China have helped. The austerity campaign demanded by European surplus economies has alienated many debtors in the South, forced to tighten their belts humiliating and painful. Merkel had to balance the right-wing national conservatives who demanded austerity with the reality that European unity remained fundamental to German peace and stability. The euro and the European Union survived the crisis, but internal fractures have become more open, with Brexit and right-wing populism as major consequences.
The second crisis Merkel survived was the influx of refugees in 2015. In that year, the number of migrant arrivals in Europe was almost one million, of which half a million were asylum seekers. in Germany, with 750,000 the following year. As the increase in the number of migrants frightened many in Europe, Merkel said ‘we can do it’, which sent a human message that Germany has taken in the refugees, half of whom are from Syria. . This courageous statement unfortunately did not please some supporters of Merkel and her party lost many seats in the next election.
It was Merkel’s foreign policy that impressed Asians the most. The key principles were an avowed alliance between Europe and the North Atlantic, a strong belief in multilateralism and trade, and the firm belief that global solutions are better resolved through negotiation than through military intervention. Over time, this reflected a more independent line from that of the United States.
In 2013, Der Spiegel magazine surprisingly claimed that the United States had been tapping Merkel’s phone since 2002, which sparked outrage in Germany. But it was the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 that triggered a review of US-European relations. In May 2017, after the controversial G7 and NATO meetings, Merkel insisted that Europe could no longer count on the United States and Britain, and that it was time “to take our destiny in hand ”.
Merkel’s philosophy is best summed up by her brilliant Harvard 2019 launch speech. Her six lessons were: “Acting together for the benefit of the moderate lateral global world.” Keep asking yourself, “Am I doing something because it’s right or just because it’s possible?” Remember that freedom is never something that can be taken for granted. Surprise yourself with what is possible. Remember that opening always comes with risk. Letting go of the old is part of the new beginning. Above all, nothing can be taken for granted. Everything is possible.”
Merkel’s quantum scientist enabled her to understand the new era of “quantum politics” where, in the face of massive uncertainty, the politician must recognize that anything is possible and nothing can be taken for granted. But she had the moral conviction that peace is best achieved by working together, to heal and transition to a better start. She had the good sense to seek the truth, knowing “not to describe lies as truths and the truth as lies.”
At a time when the West seemed adrift, the Rest admired Germany and Europe precisely because Merkel projected the virtues of humility, poise, stability and simple common sense. Asia in particular will need these qualities to survive the coming turmoil.
The writer, a former central banker, comments on world affairs from an Asian perspective. The opinions expressed are his own. (ANN Special).