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Merkel .. 16-yr political march fraught with crises

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel
BERLIN, Sept 23 (KUNA) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel is quitting political life on September 26, leaving a legacy matched by only that of her mentor Helmut Kohl, the late chancellor who selected her as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
Soon after Merkel's 16 year-long march as head of the federal government ends, controversy will start between her proponents and opponents over her handling of the numerous crises that faced the government and Europe at large.
However, both sides will agree that her name will be written down in iconic European leaders' register as "chancellor of crises." The outgoing chancellor, who succeeded Gerhard Schroder - the Leader of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 2005, faced the first test as early as in 2008 when the global financial meltdown broke out.
The crisis triggered more complicated ones, notably the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone in 2011.
Three years later, Germany, one of Europe's biggest economies, was hard-hit by the refugee influx from the Middle East and Africa. Other global crises followed in 2018, including the current coronavirus pandemic and the climate change.
The global financial crisis reached climax on September 15, 2008, with the announcement of bankruptcy of the US Lehman Brothers bank.
The announcement left Merkel's government with two choices; either to let the German banks enter the cycle of insolvency and face a similar fate, or step in with rescue packages to keep the productivity of the German firms.
Market chose the latter scenario and decided to shore up the local banks and firms that depend primarily on exports to European and US markets; her government had to add to the burdens of taxpayers, thus affecting negatively her popularity.
She had to convince the opposition parties of the efficacy of her policy and the inevitability of offering guarantees and rescue packages to the banking sector.
In 2011 a new crisis, triggered by the financial meltdown, cropped up; it is the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, particularly Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
The European Union had to either let the three economies go bankrupt, which would lead automatically to the downfall of the Union, or embark on a massive rescue network with zero interest rate.
The EU acquired a large number of government bonds from the three countries which were on the verge of bankruptcy to spare them the trouble of drawing more expensive loans from financial markets outside the Eurozone.
The EU leaders convened marathon summit meetings over the following two years that culminated in the one that took place in Brussels on July 13, 2013, and lasted for 17 hours.
On that day, Merkel announced an EU agreement with the then Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras that Greece would receive an aid package to the tune of EUR 86 billion. The country had to carry out radical economic reforms under close watch from creditors.
Merkel kept awake for 27 hours running during those marathon negotiations, according to the German national daily newspaper Die Welt.
Regarding the refugee influx, the European media outlets were flooded in late August 2015 with photos and videos of large numbers of migrants battling to reach Europe through the southern coasts of the Mediterranean or the Balkan countries.
The tragic scenes of migrants shocked the public opinion in Germany and other Central and Western European countries, which required urgent response from the EU leaders.
Instead of sealing the borders with Austria, Merkel kept them open for incoming refugees, to the surprise of the German public opinion, including even her own CDU.
She defied critics saying, "wir schaffen das" or Germany "will be able to do it" (the mission).
Although Merkel's humanitarian response to the migration crisis gained her praise from the United Nations and human right orgs, this policy angered a considerable part of the Germans.
The uproar gave rise to the emergence of nationalist right-wing parties such as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamicisation of the Occident, known by its short-form Pegida.
The AfD, which made remarkable gains in the 2017 elections, and other nationalist movements, continue to blame the migrant crisis on Merkel's policy and pose risk to public peace in the country.
When European allies, particularly France, refused to share the burdens of the refugees in early 2016, Merkel turned to Turkey and reached "the migrant deal." After shuttle trips to Turkey, Merkel announced the 2016 EU-Turkey refugee agreement.
The new deal, signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, provides that Turkey closes down its borders with Greece to get entitled for an operational EUR 6-billion budget for the Facility for Refugees.
Despite the impacts of the crisis on her popularity, Merkel was able to survive and win a fourth term in 2017; she built strong government through coalition with the socialist democrats.
In late 2019, Germany failed to take seriously the reports of coronavirus (Covid-19) coming from Wuhan city in central China.
Merkel, who made light of such reports and the health precautions, was caught by camera while getting embarrassed by German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer who refused to shake hands with her during a meeting.
As the fatal pandemic had a firm grip on Germany, the country's 16 states were divided over the shutdown measures.
Once again, Merkel had to choose between putting in peril the lives of millions of people or embark on restrictions that could choke the economy.
She decided on the second option, which necessitated pumping hundreds of billions of euros in aid of the economic, health and education sectors.
Though such matters are decided on a state, not federal, level, Merkel was able to convince state leaders of the shutdown measures.
Her policy made the country's human losses from the pandemic less than those of other European countries. Her ambitious vaccination policy aims to cover 75 to 85 percent of the population in the coming months.
By defeating the pandemic, Merkel is drawing curtains on her 16-year-long eventful march as chancellor of Europe's biggest economy.
In the morning of Monday, September 27, she will start a completely different life free from national duties; she will "do nothing" as she put it in reply to a question at a recent press conference. (end) ang.gb