For many, the name “Angela Merkel” draws only a slight association to her involuntary participation in a recent meme involving Donald Trump and a side-eye. But who exactly is Germany’s first female Chancellor? And what has she done to deserve the title of Europe’s most powerful woman?
People worldwide have resonated with the qualities that define Angela Merkel – honesty, understanding, and steadfast resolve Perhaps the reason for Merkel’s brave stance on solidarity and openness within Germany is due to her upbringing. Raised behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany (She was born in Hamburg, West Germany), the fall of the Berlin Wall forced her to leave behind her chemistry research and take her first steps into the realm of politics. She has held many positions since being elected to the Bundestag, having been appointed Minister for Women and Youth upon her election. In 1994 she became Minister of Environment, rising to become Leader of the Christian Democratic Union [CDU] (Germany’s major centre-right party) in 2000. In 2005 she was sworn in as Germany’s first female Chancellor.
Her position as Chancellor is a significant one. Managing the complicated parliamentary system to form coalitions and pass legislation, Merkel’s female guidance has provided Germany with ongoing stable leadership.
Twelve years later, she has established her legacy – with a direction that is empathetic, daring, and has carried Germany through economic emergency. Merkel has seen through the Euro Disaster, and now looks to increasing international conflicts and the resultant abundance of asylum seekers. Equal is her steadfast resolve. In the face of mounting pressure from the far right, Merkel is forced to develop sharp strategies. Through her recent policy regarding Germany’s intake of asylum seekers, as well as pushing for other EU countries to amend their existing immigration policies, she has dug out the roots of prejudice to challenge the pre-existing assumptions the world has about all social groups, Germany included. Since 2015 the country has opened its borders to more than two million refugees, and is still processing eight hundred thousand more.
In 2009, whilst the world was reeling from the Global Financial Crisis, Merkel turned to structural reform and fiscal conservatism, as well as a form of labour relations that have revived German industries. Today, Germany’s economy is the largest in Europe and fourth in the world by GDP – unemployment has been on a steady decline ever since. In an economic and political industry dominated by males, Merkel has proved her strength, and as a woman no less – ushering Germany through one of its biggest challenges while its European neighbours suffered. Nonetheless, despite the boost in popularity she received through her expertise at stabilising Germany’s economy, her recent show of bold leadership has left her supporters with mixed emotions.
During a talk show in 2015, Reem, a young Palestinian girl, told Merkel that she and her family faced deportation since arriving in Germany from a refugee camp four years prior. In the face of this, Merkel chose honesty over a sugared version of the truth – “Politics is sometimes hard,” the Chancellor replied, “When we say ‘you can all come,’ we just cannot cope with that.” At this, the girl began to cry, and just a few months later, Germany opened its borders to all Syrian refugees, with the government revoking all then-current expulsion orders for Syrian asylum seekers. The decision was initially met with popularity, with many Germans acutely aware of the historical stains of the past, and an eagerness to rebrand worldwide pre-existing assumptions about their society. However, since then, mixed attitudes have begun to arise. A decreased voter approval rate and looming elections, paired with critiques that Germany’s refugee policy is simply unsustainable has left Merkel shifting her position – in a press conference she admitted, “we didn’t have enough control…but we were doing what is morally and legally obliged.”
Angela Merkel is running for re-election to secure a fourth term as Chancellor in 2017, in a time where her presence on the political stage is significant not only for women, but for the type of leadership she embodies. Her safety come election time remains unclear. However, no matter the results of Merkel’s bid for re-election, she remains one of the most influential women in 21st century politics.
Angela’s political career will no doubt remain enshrined in German history. Challenging the politics of growing xenophobia and short-term perspectives, she remains a symbol for strong, moral leadership. Whether she can prove her resolve this time is up to Germany’s voters.
Words by Sirling Chuah
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 3 SOAP