Whether you know it or not one person, more than any other, has in the last decade dominated the European scene: at least in a largely positive and affirmative way. Said to be the most powerful woman in the world, Angela Merkel is arguably the most prominent figure in the history of European Union.
Notorious for her remarkably uncommunicative nature for a modern Politian, this remote figure was perhaps the perfect leader for the somewhat post-democratic Germany that has existed for the last decade. Since becoming chancellor in 2005, Merkel has been the embodiment of an extraordinary consensus in German politics. For two of the last three electoral periods since then, she has led a grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats. The grand coalition was held together by an ideological convergence as the Social Democrats shifted to the right on economic policy (most notably in supporting the chancellor in imposing austerity on the rest of the eurozone) and the Christian Democrats shifted to the left on social and environmental policy (most notably in phasing out nuclear power – the so-called Energiewende). Just last year, a prominent figure of the Social Democrats, Torsten Albrig, even questioned whether his party needed its own candidate for chancellor in the next election (scheduled for 2017) because Merkel was doing such an “excellent” job.
Now, with domestic concerns rising from the refugee crisis, a solid partner in Britain in a Brexit process, rising threats of cyber-attacks, a Donald Trump that may favor a more American-conservative approach to economic or trade relations as well as a less diplomatic approach to Nuclear power issues from the likes of Iran, North Korea, a clear contrast to the kind of global leadership that was exhibited by the Obama administration, the legacies of this remarkable political figure remains anything but unquestioned and her decision to seek re-election perhaps the one of the toughest she might have faced, at least in the last decade. The “Merkel consensus” will now be tried by the court of a largely ideologically divided Germany. Since last autumn, she has been praised and criticized for opening Germany’s borders to refugees from around the world, seen by both her supporters and her critics as a sudden and surprising departure from her usual pragmatism.
While Merkel’s supporters explain and justify this transformation in two ways – both of which should be treated with skepticism. One having to do with her upbringing in East Germany and the other being that we are seeing a manifestation of the Christian compassion she learned growing up in the seminary, one that included a home for disabled people, this issues will certainly determine the Chancellor’s fate in the next elections.