Angela Merkel’s Legacy


Tobias Schwarz

Merkel stands next to other world leaders

By Kareem Rifai, Staff Writer

On September 26 of 2021, the citizens of Germany chose the successor to the renowned Angela Merkel. At the time of writing, Olaf Scholz, of the Social Democratic Party (center left), is projected to become the next chancellor. With the next generation of German politics on the horizon, it’s time to reflect on the last 16 years in which Angela Merkel has been in charge.

Merkel was born in Eastern Germany on July 17, 1954. She went on to study physics at Leipzig University, where she earned her doctorate for her thesis on quantum chemistry. In 1989 after the fall of the Berlin Wall she joined the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) where she rose through the ranks. In 1990 she was elected as a new member of the parliament, then in 1994 she was appointed as Minister of Environment, and by 2000 she was the head of the CDU. Finally, in 2005 she was elected as the first women and Eastern German Chancellor of Germany, after her grand coalition between the Social Democratic Party (center left) and Christian Social Union (center right).

Dealing with the Eurozone Debt Crisis

During the 2008 recession, Greece’s economy had suffered terribly, causing the value of the Euro to fall. This fall in the Euro, primarily caused by Greece’s economic troubles, affected all members of the Eurozone.

With Europe in panic and Germany enduring the recession better than others, Merkel felt obligated to take responsibility. She composed a plan demanding mainly Greece to pass enormous spending cuts in exchange for loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The 16 Eurozone countries agreed to the plan, establishing Merkel as the de facto leader of the European Union.

Through these harsh austerity measures, Merkel had made it clear that saving the Euro was her priority, not the welfare of Greeks and the others who were suffering. Jobs had become harder and harder to come across with a 25% unemployment rate. Additionally, between 2008 and 2013, Greeks had became 40% poorer due to significant cuts in wages and workers compensation. Huge cuts in essential services like healthcare have been the hardest hit with an estimated 800,000 citizens left without access to medical care due to a lack of insurance.

With the financial ruin, many Greeks turned their anguish into hatred. On October 9 2012, while Merkel held talks with former Greek Prime Minister, Greeks took to the streets protesting Merkel trying to break down barricades with many comparing Merkel and Germany to Hitler and the Nazis. With a rise in far left politics, Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party took advantage of the sentiment. Tsipras ran on a platform solely based on hatred against austerity measures placed against his nation. After his election, Tsipras expressed to a crowd of supporters “Greece leaves behinds catastrophic austerity, it leaves behind fear and authoritarianism, it leaves behind five years of humiliation and anguish,” a clear shot at Merkel and Germany.

To this day Greece’s economy is still recovering. Many critics believe that Merkel’s austerity measures have been a disaster as higher poverty led to less consumer spending, further sending Greece’s economy spiraling down.

The Refugee Crisis

Following the Arab Spring and years of violence that followed, in 2015, migrants from the Middle East and Northern Africa piled up in Southern European countries such as Spain, Italy, Turkey, and countries in the Balkans. Most of the migrants, originating largely from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, were fleeing violent wars in their region. With the pressure on Europe and a rise in nationalism and anti-immigrant fears, Merkel acted alone in granting asylum to over 140,000 migrants.

At first her policies were met with great attitude from the German people many welcoming the refugees with open arms, but this took a drastic turn. On New Years Eve of 2015, reports from Cologne of mass sexual assaults by men of Middle Eastern and Northern African appearance changed many Germans stance on immigrants.

With the increase in xenophobia, far right party named the Alternative for Germany took advantage and seized 1.5 million voters from the previously mentioned Grand Coalition in 2017. Germans approval rate of Merkel plummeted. Critics of Merkel, such as Wayne Hills history teacher, Mr. Turso, believe that Merkel’s act of granting asylum to so many refugees at once was damaging to her reputation and her party. Mr. Turso went on that such a large influx of refugees did not give enough time for German people and infrastructure to adjust. These criticisms are justified as indeed Germans disapproval of Merkel and her party can be seen as the CDU has just had its worst election results in years.

Despite the disapproval from many, Merkel continued to grant asylum to refugees though at lower rates.

Climate Chancellor?

Merkel started out her clash with climate change as the environmental minister in the 90’s, where she spearheaded the first United Nations Climate Conference in Berlin. When elected chancellor in 2005, she was nicknamed “Climate Chancellor” as she set out on her mission to cut CO2 emissions. However her fight came with some bumps in the road.

In 2007, Merkel hosted the G8 summit with two goals in mind: get industrialised nations to cut CO2 emissions in half by 2050, and get the leaders to agree that climate change is man made. Met with resistance from leaders such as George Bush, who was against a 35°F warming limit; she was able to get the leaders to agree to the emissions reductions.

Following Merkel’s great success at the G8, she was met with failure in the 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen. Pushing for nations leaders to agree to a 25% cut in CO2 emissions by 2020, she faced conflict in negotiations. With little time left in the summit she pleaded “If we go home and have to explain why we haven’t accomplished anything, this will be good for those who don’t want to fight climate change, who don’t want to fight poverty, and who don’t want to change their lives. That would be a terrible signal to all who want to secure a good future for the world in the 21st century.” In the end she was unable to get the leaders to agree to the cuts.

Nevertheless, Merkel continued to live up to the goals she had at the G8. She ditched the previous governments plans to shut down nuclear power plants, as nuclear energy releases significantly less emissions than fossil fuels. These plans to continue nuclear energy were eventually shut down by her after the tragic 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown, in Japan. Merkel vowed to end nuclear energy by 2022.

After getting rid of nuclear energy, Merkel realized that she needed to come up with a new plan to cut Germany’s emissions and that was when her Energy Transition program. Her new program had ambitious goals of supplying Germany with 100% renewable energy. Merkel’s strategy was to pay individuals and corporations for producing renewable energy technology and applying it to grid.

Merkel’s goals were once again greeted with difficulty when the Eurozone crisis was in full swing. During the crisis, governments prioritized their economy and Germany was no exception. Germany’s renowned auto industry proved to be essential to the economy. Merkel was forced to protect the auto industry. In 2013, lobbyists working for the auto manufacturers urged her to bring down a EU proposal to regulate emission standards for cars. As the unofficial leader of the EU, Merkel was able to shut down the proposition.

Germans praise for Merkel’s action against climate change had transformed to criticism for allowing large corporations to sway her decisions. She was met with even more disapproval as the mining of lignite or brown coal was declared to continue in until 2038. Although lignite mining provides an abundance of jobs in eastern Germany, critics believe that the bigger picture of combating climate change is more important.

This past July, flash flooding in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands killed over 200 people and costed billions worth in damage. With little time left in Merkel’s chancellorship, she seeked to secure her legacy as the “Climate Chancellor”. She visited the aftermath of the flooding and mourned with the people and promised to do better. Soon enough, she pushed the deadline to reach net zero emissions in 5 years.

Merkel leaves behind a very controversial legacy. Some regard her as a expert in crisis management, others deem her decisions to be detrimental. Many criticize her as two faced on the issue of climate change, others regard her as a pioneer in combating climate change. Irregardless of what one’s opinion is of Merkel, there is no doubt that under her leadership, Germany has become the undisputed superpower of Europe.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email