‘Long reigns often leave long shadows’: Europeans on Angela Merkel

People across Europe share their views on German chancellor and role she has played in the EU

After 16 years in office, Angela Merkel is stepping down on Thursday as chancellor of Germany. The former UK prime minister Tony Blair said she had “often defined modern Germany” and Romano Prodi, Italian prime minister between 2006 and 2008, said a new European strategy and the next-generation EU would be part of the “great legacy” she leaves.

People across Europe share their views on her leadership in Germany and the role she has played in the European Union.

‘Merkel showed me a girl can become anything’

Xenia Cleuvers.
Xenia Cleuvers. Photograph: Xenia Cleuvers

I’m part of generation Merkel and grew up only knowing Angela Merkel as the chancellor of Germany. Having a woman, who with a PhD, is the most influential office in Germany, showed me that a girl can become anything. In the midst of many male politicians it was a relief to see a female representative leading German politics. Her calmness and reliability always gave me a sense of security in society. Though I wouldn’t consider myself politically conservative/centre-right I admire(d) her because she led us steadily through many crises. My main criticism would be her blindness in terms of green and climate friendly policy. I approve of her stepping down to allow a change in leadership but I worry when I look at the current frontrunners for office.
Xenia Cleuvers, 23, student, Cologne, Germany

‘The climate crisis is Merkel’s biggest failure’

Tom Stolzenberger.
Tom Stolzenberger. Photograph: Tom Stolzenberger

There are only a few points where I have agreed with Angela Merkel – one being the 2015 refugee crisis, when she “opened the doors” (in my opinion the only right thing to do). Other than that, her rule is a mix of ‘let’s just continue how we have always done it’ and ‘only change something if it is absolutely necessary’. But since Germany was/is doing well economically, people kept voting for her. Merkel became the symbol of stability, and Germans love stability. The climate crisis is Merkel’s biggest failure. As a former minister for environment she warned about the dramatic effects of climate change, but when in power, did nothing meaningful to present solutions. To me she will always be the the quiet, logical, unemotional politician.
Tom Stolzenberger, 24, law student, Germany

‘Good riddance’

Frithjof Stöppler.
Frithjof Stöppler. Photograph: Frithjof Stöppler

Merkel’s politics are responsible for nearly destroying the nascent but strong renewable energies sector that the previous government had strongly supported. By destroying all her potential successors politically, Merkel left behind a power vacuum in the conservative part of German society. In an essentially conservative country, built on seeking stability and wealth rather than progress and opportunity, she thus leaves it in the worst possible political circumstances. No, her track record is hardly admirable and I remain baffled at how long she managed to cling to power despite the many problems. I say good riddance!
Frithjof Stöppler, 40, academic, Stockholm, Sweden

‘Merkel puts other state leaders to shame’

Honest, brave, responsible, played for the long game and kept her principles throughout all her time in office. Genuinely cared about people. Puts other state leaders to shame!
Niki, 65, photographer, France

‘Let’s hope her dream for Europe will outlive her tenure in office’

I think Angela Merkel has been a strong focal point when it comes to Europe and the world at large. She put Germany at the forefront and opened up the doors for migrants while she was in office. She’s seen by many as a saviour economically, and she has helped a lot of people and countries all over the world through commerce and trade, funding of NGOs, and international organisations. I really think Germany and Europe will miss her dynamic leadership style. Let’s hope her dreams for Europe will outlive her tenure in office.
Lucky, 32, Italy

‘I think most Greek people will not miss her’

Doros Georgiou.
Doros Georgiou. Photograph: Doros Georgiou

I believe Germany mishandled the eurozone crisis, and is responsible for significantly worsening the state of all the southern European countries by imposing on them unpopular and, more importantly, ineffective austerity policies. Later on, her decision to let 1 million refugees into Germany was received positively in Greece, where most people thought that rich European countries should take in more refugees. In a world where Trump was the US president, and the UK was on its way out of the EU, Merkel and Germany seemed like the last beacons of hope and stability. Overall, I think most Greek people will not miss her. Germany and Europe as a whole need a change and her departure is a golden opportunity to make this change and reform Europe before it is too late.
Doros Georgiou, 35, research analyst, Athens, Greece

‘The major decisions Merkel made were a catastrophe’

Merkel’s been a disaster for Germany and Europe. After 16 years as chancellor, Germany has become more and more alike the former GDR (German Democratic Republic), where she’s from. In her early years in office I felt she hardly made any decisions, and even when she did it was only after evaluating the public opinion, just to stay popular. The major decisions she made were a catastrophe, like migrant politics and nuclear energy. Merkel has divided the German population and citizens are without a common dialogue. I’m very sad, because Germany was a great place to live in the 70s-00s. I’m afraid that none of the candidates for office will be able to bring order to the mess Merkel leaves behind her.
MA, 69, retired immunologist, Portugal

‘She treats her voters as if they are adults’

Carlos Martín Carretié.
Carlos Martín Carretié. Photograph: Carlos Martín Carretié

I can’t agree on everything with Merkel, but I admire her. A skilful negotiator, she has established bridges between allies and opponents throughout Europe and at home. I’ve been watching from Spain about how she has curbed unemployment and public deficit in Germany with respect. We live in a time of great polarisation and it has been a relief to see a politician focused on the problems.. What I like most about her is that she treats her voters as if they are adults. I hope some of her style will prevail in Europe in the following decade. If not, I’ll miss her.
Carlos Martín Carretié, 22, Seville, Spain

‘Merkel is exactly what a politician should be’

I’m not very much into politics but it doesn’t interrupt me seeing her as the most stable European political figure. She was and is a quintessence of what a politician should be – calm, consistent but determined and pragmatic, serious but a visionary. I guess I emphasise on that, because, unwillingly and with sadness in my heart, I make a comparison with our local political space. Just this year, we had our third election in November. Politicians are recklessly playing with the nerves of the people and are wasting money. The more I’m sad and disappointed from our Bulgarian political nonsense, the more I admire, in general, people who know where they are, what is expected from them to be and to do. In my eyes, Angela Merkel is exactly what a politician should be – 16 years, wow.
Evgenia Sasha, 62, Sofia, Bulgaria

‘A steady hand on the tiller’

Síle McNutt.
Síle McNutt. Photograph: Síle McNutt

A steady hand on the tiller –consistent and reliable. I liked that Merkel allowed 1 million refugees to immigrate into the EU in 2016 and stood up to Trump. Since Germany is a leading country in Europe, we have been fortunate to have had stable leadership for such a long time. I also like that she handed over leadership of her party in plenty of time so that they could prepare for a potential new Kanzler [chancellor], and that she is stepping away, not being pushed out (how rare in politics is that?). Great to see a woman in a powerful position.
Síle McNutt, 60, environmentalist and artist, Co Donegal, Ireland

‘My perception of Merkel completely changed with her refugee crisis response’

Mirko Savković.
Mirko Savković. Photograph: Mirko Savković

First impressions are important, and I was initially sceptical about Merkel. The Greek crisis did not help as well. Nevertheless, against all odds and just as the public perception was tilting away from her, my perception of Merkel completely changed with her refugee crisis response. I also started to appreciate much more her role as a compromise and consensus builder in the EU institutions. Now, I share some anxiety about the future of Germany and Europe after ‘Mutti’s’ retirement. Will the engine of European project hold? How are our neighbours in the western Balkans waiting room supposed to find a new ally? It seems that it’s going to be a serious challenge for any future German chancellor who aims to fill in her shoes.
Mirko Savković, 28, Banovci, Croatia

‘Some of her daring decisions stand out all the more for their comparative rarity’

Daphne Preston-Kendal
Daphne Preston-Kendal. Photograph: Daphne Preston-Kendal

The hasty post-Fukushima decision to close down Germany’s nuclear power plants by 2022, while only just having negotiated a coal shutdown target of 2038, has ensured Germany had continued to be one of Europe’s greatest climate sinners, contrary to the country’s image of itself as making good progress on environmental targets. Even as a chancellor who favoured stability over reform, she did nonetheless leave her mark on the country, and those few surprising daring decisions of her time in office stand out all the more for their comparative rarity. Her greatest success as a politician may be the one she repeated from her predecessor Kohl: she so skilfully and diplomatically wields power that nobody in her party, perhaps nobody in all of Germany, seems like they can replace her.
Daphne Preston-Kendal, 28, UK student, lives in Germany

‘Long reigns often leave long shadows’

The difficulty with leaders such as Merkel, is that due to their popularity and prevalence, people find it hard to see a future without them. I do not have much to comment about her policies, as we do not see eye to eye on many subjects, but as she has defined Germany through her position as chancellor throughout most of my life, I look forward to the change that her successor is sure to bring. Long reigns often leave long shadows, and so will Merkel’s as well. There is a generation that has not known a Germany without her. Due to her popularity and long time in office, it will be difficult for the next chancellor to measure up to her. Things will surely go on, but her successor not only has Germany to keep in mind, but the whole continent as well.
Chris, 18, student, Finland


Guardian readers and Rachel Obordo

The GuardianTramp

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