Angela Merkel’s years and legacy — The PUNCH Editorial

Posted by News Express | 7 October 2021 | 691 times

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•Departing German Chancellor Angela Merkel


AS Germany’s political parties engage in intense manoeuvrings following last month’s general election that produced no clear winner, attention in the country, Europe and the world is focused on the expected governing coalition. Much scrutiny is also beamed on the legacy of the departing Chancellor, Angela Merkel, after 16 years in office. Seen as a firm, steady hand, a conciliator, and stabiliser, both of Germany’s strapping political and economic machine, and the European Union, whoever emerges as the new helmsman will struggle to match her stature in national and global affairs.

So far, none of the frontrunners is perceived as coming close to the resilient lady. Elections to the lower house of the federal parliament, the Bundestag, produced no clear winner, throwing the government and chancellorship post open to whichever faction can cobble together a coalition.

Merkel’s ruling conservative-leaning Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union lost its lead to the opposition centre-left Social Democrats, whose 25.7 per cent of the vote and 206 seats give it the edge in any coalition. Its leader, Olaf Scholz, has a chance at the chancellorship and could spell a more left-leaning Germany. The CDU/CSU lost its 16-year-long lead with 24.1 per cent of the vote and 196 seats. The left-leaning liberals, the Greens, improved from 5.8 per cent vote share in 2017 to 14.8 per cent of the vote and a potential kingmaker role with 118 seats. Counting the CDU/CSU as one, there are seven parties represented in the lower house. Analysts say the bargaining for a governing coalition could take weeks.

The polling and outcome, though a cliff-hanger, nevertheless demonstrate the resilience of Germany’s political system, the interplay of free choice and the ultimate triumph of the will of the people in a vibrant democracy. For instance, while Merkel has remained very popular all through and is leaving with a current approval rating of about 80 per cent, her party has consistently lost its mass appeal. A report by TIME magazine noted that from a high vote share of 41 per cent in 2013, the CDU/CSU slipped to 33 per cent in 2017, and 24.1 per cent in 2021.

Also on display is the robustness of mutually reinforcing diversity in a properly functioning parliamentary-style federal polity. The CSU remains a regional party, based in Bavaria, the largest of Germany’s 16 federating states, but is represented at the centre, and like other regional groupings, could be a member of the ruling federal coalition or opposition. The other smaller parties are also potential coalition partners, representing diverse interests, ideologies, and regions. This is unlike the winner-takes-all system in Nigeria that invariably leaves many sections alienated.

Merkel leaves behind a strong economy, a vibrant political system and a strong EU that has weathered severe headwinds in the last few years, including the Greek debt crisis, the exit of Britain and the emergence of ruling right-wing parties among some member states challenging the union’s fundamental principles.

A recent poll showed 70 per cent of Germans were satisfied with their economic circumstances. Merkel piloted the country safely through the global meltdown of 2008/9, and the accompanying Euro debt crisis. Under her, Germany has also weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Eurasia Group analysis, Merkel’s leadership of the country and the EU was exemplary as a “thoughtful, flexible problem-solver” who shepherded them through a debt emergency, a surge of migrants from the Middle East and the deadliest global pandemic in a century. Her efforts, said a writer, “helped save the EU.” The Council on Foreign Relations counts Germany’s acceptance of one million refugees, constitutional debt brake, and her insistence on austerity and structural reform during the eurozone debt crisis as some of her most far-reaching decisions.

For KPMG, a global consultancy, the government’s delivery of vaccines to 68 per cent of the population boosted business confidence and kept the economy humming. Merkel’s dexterity in managing emergencies is also credited with helping to boost employment, especially for women. At about 5.4 per cent, unemployment is one of the lowest among advanced economies.

On the global stage, she helped strengthen the euro as part of her total commitment to the EU project. Seen as the de-facto leader of Europe despite the pretensions of French presidents, Merkel nevertheless always promoted Germany’s interests, its place in global markets and national security interests. A new minimum wage, energy policy review, enhanced welfare, and an end to military conscription were part of her successes.

Her foreign policy emphasised universal liberal values, democracy, human rights, and diplomacy. She has been able to maintain a balance of diplomacy and sanctions, when necessary, among aggressive global powers like Russia, China, Iran, and brutal regimes from Myanmar to Venezuela and Belarus. Pointedly, she remained calm, but firm in handling the aggressive, disruptive bluster of an ex-American president, Donald Trump, who unilaterally upended international agreements, provoked trade wars and weakened the NATO alliance. She leaves the EU stronger and therefore a major force for global stability.

But like all humans, there were some unfulfilled expectations. One is the failure to see through the promised full switch from nuclear to safer energy sources. Her leading role in the EU’s handling of the debt crisis and tough stance on defaults angered Greece to the point of the latter contemplating quitting the union. As a great conciliator, some liberals are disappointed at her modest successes in advancing environmental issues. The right says she was slow to align with French President, Emmanuel Macron’s move to make Europe rely on itself for its defence and away from the American-dominated NATO umbrella.

Nigeria and other emerging democracies should learn from the German experience: democracies thrive on strong institutions and sensible, responsible leadership. Merkel, a woman born in the defunct communist East Germany, a physicist with a doctorate in chemistry, was spotted and groomed by another great German chancellor, Helmut Kohl; she rose to the top and remained a humble housewife. No high living, luxuries, or scandal.

Her experience provides a shining example of leadership recruitment and responsible governance for Nigeria and others still struggling with democracy.

Source: News Express

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