She was called “the leader of the free world” as authoritarian populists were on the march in Europe and the United States, but Angela Merkel is wrapping up a historic 16 years in power with an uncertain legacy at home and abroad.
She was dubbed Germany’s “eternal chancellor”, Merkel, 67, leaves with her popularity so resilient she would likely have won a record fifth term had she sought it.
Merkel will pass the baton as the first German chancellor to step down entirely by choice, with a whole generation of voters never knowing another person at the top.Her supporters say she provided steady, pragmatic leadership through countless global crises as a moderate and unifying figure.
Her major policy shifts reflected the wishes of large German majorities among them phasing out nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster and attracted a broad new coalition of women and urban voters to the once arch-conservative CDU.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, her boldest move keeping open German borders in 2015 to more than one million asylum seekers seemed set to determine her legacy.
Many Germans rallied to Merkel’s “We can do it” cry, the move also emboldened an anti-migrant party, Alternative for Germany ushering a far-right bloc into parliament for the first time since World War II.
Merkel, the EU’s and G7’s most senior leader, started as a contemporary of George W. Bush, Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac when she became Germany’s youngest and first female chancellor in 2005.
She was born Angela Dorothea Kasner on July 17, 1954 in the port city of Hamburg, the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman and a schoolteacher.
Her father moved the family to a small-town parish in the communist East at a time when tens of thousands were headed the other way.
She excelled in mathematics and Russian, which has helped her maintain the dialogue with the other veteran on the world stage, Russia’s Putin, who was a KGB officer in Dresden when the Berlin Wall fell in