BERLIN — It was classic Angela Merkel: The girl who has dominated European politics for the higher a part of twenty years handed over her workplace to the subsequent German chancellor, thanked her employees, then walked to the door and made an exit — her remaining one.
After 16 years as chief of Germany and unofficial chief of Europe, Ms. Merkel on Wednesday left the workplace she first took over when President George W. Bush was nonetheless within the White Home in a characteristically understated approach.
“Congratulations pricey Mr. Chancellor, pricey Olaf Scholz,” Ms. Merkel advised her successor in a small gathering on the chancellery. “I do know from my very own expertise that it’s a shifting second to be elected into this workplace.”
“It’s an thrilling, fulfilling obligation, a difficult obligation, too,” Ms. Merkel mentioned, “however should you embrace it with pleasure it’s maybe one of the lovely duties there are to be accountable for this nation.”
Lengthy the world’s strongest feminine chief, Ms. Merkel was the central political determine in Germany and Europe by means of 4 U.S. presidents and 5 British and eight Italian prime ministers. Her regular accretion of authority drew admirers and detractors alike, however she remained a singular supply of stability for the continent by means of repeated crises.
Criticized for having didn’t groom a successor, Ms. Merkel, a Christian Democrat, could properly have accomplished so in the long run. Solely — a lot to the frustration of her personal occasion — it was a member of her conventional opposition, Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat and her final finance minister, who was sworn in Wednesday after a marketing campaign that promised continuity.
Nonetheless, Ms. Merkel’s departure marks the tip of a transformative period of German politics that she herself referred to as “eventful and sometimes very difficult” — and the start of a brand new and unsure chapter for Germany and Europe.
“It was an enormous interval throughout which you have been chancellor of this nation and you probably did massive issues,” Mr. Scholz mentioned after she had formally handed over the chancellery and its employees to him. “There have been some massive crises we needed to cope with, a few of them we weathered collectively.”
“That welded us collectively and never simply these occasions,” Mr. Scholz added. “Between us there was all the time very trusting collaboration. That’s good, I consider, as a result of it reveals that we’re a powerful, succesful democracy in which there’s loads of consensus between democrats, cooperation.”
Many who labored intently with the departing German chancellor level to her sense of dedication and willingness to compromise as the premise for her energy.
“She was — and he or she is — the one that was all the time moving into deeply ready, with a deep sense of accountability, all the time on the lookout for the outcome,” mentioned Dalia Grybauskaite, who first met Ms. Merkel in Brussels in 2005 and went on to collaborate together with her throughout her personal decade-long time period as president of Lithuania. “And she or he was able to compromise to attain that outcome.”
The complete imprint that Ms. Merkel, a pastor’s daughter from the previous communist East, made on her nation and continent will reveal itself solely within the years forward. However for now the fulcrum of her legacy is extensively thought of to be her determination in 2015 and 2016 to welcome greater than 1,000,000 asylum seekers into Germany.
The choice sharply divided her nation — significantly alongside the outdated East-West fault line — and fueled the emergence of a far-right nationalist motion that grew stronger than at any time for the reason that Nazis.
However it additionally softened Germany’s picture overseas and established her nation as a liberal beacon as populism threatened the very foundations of the West’s democratic order.
“Angela Merkel modified Germany’s picture on the planet — in a approach she saved Germany’s honor,” mentioned Naika Foroutan, an immigration professional and professor on the Humboldt College in Berlin. “It went towards all expectations that this express humanitarian gesture would come from Germany. That symbolic flip, that Germany, the nation with the ugly face, proved the rock and took folks in, is related to Angela Merkel.”
The opposite interval that outlined her time in energy was Europe’s debt disaster, and her tightfisted prescription for lengthy years of painful funds cuts as a approach out of it — one thing many southern Europeans nonetheless haven’t forgiven her for greater than a decade later.
“In elements of Europe Ms. Merkel is seen rather more negatively than in different elements of the world,” Ms. Foroutan mentioned.
The identical is true in Germany itself: Wildly common within the much more populous West of the nation, Ms. Merkel is hated in swathes of the previous Communist East, the place she grew up. The East has grow to be the stronghold of the Different for Germany, a celebration created on her watch and the primary far-right occasion to have made it into the German Parliament since World Conflict II.
“I do know my face is polarizing,” Ms. Merkel conceded two years in the past within the japanese metropolis of Chemnitz after it turned the scene of violent far-right riots. Towards the tip of her time in workplace, protesters would maintain weekly vigils exterior the chancellery and present as much as public occasions she attended to shout “Merkel should go!”
On the time, her approval rankings have been dropping quick and it appeared like she may not make it politically by means of her full fourth time period. It was the pandemic that gave Ms. Merkel, a educated scientist of famously calm temperament, one other honeymoon within the opinion polls.
Mr. Scholz, who was her finance minister over the last 4 years, has a really comparable temperament and capitalized on the parallels. “Not that a lot will change,” he advised the employees within the chancellery on Wednesday.
“The transition from Merkel to Scholz is so harmonious that you simply’ve received to ask: What’s it between these two?” the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung posited in a current article. “Merkel was usually accused of failing to domesticate a successor. However perhaps that isn’t true.”
Perceive Germany’s New Authorities
The post-Merkel period begins. For the primary time in 16 years, Germany has a center-left authorities and a brand new chancellor, Olaf Scholz, whose job might be to fill the sneakers of Angela Merkel. Right here’s what to know in regards to the new authorities:
A lot to her personal occasion’s irritation, Ms. Merkel mentioned that she would “sleep tight at evening” understanding that Mr. Scholz was operating the nation. She invited Mr. Scholz to accompany her to a Group of 20 assembly in Rome in October to introduce him to leaders like President Biden. She has concerned him in each main determination for the reason that election two months in the past. Final the 2 collectively presided over a Covid emergency assembly with the governors of Germany’s 16 states.
Throughout a army farewell ceremony for Ms. Merkel final week, she wished Mr. Scholz — whom she referred to as “Expensive Olaf” — “all the very best and a fortunate hand and far success.” He promptly replied with a praise of his personal. “Angela Merkel was a profitable chancellor,” he mentioned the identical evening on Twitter. “She tirelessly stood up for her nation and through 16 years through which rather a lot modified, stayed true to herself.”
Many Germans expressed pleasure in how easily Ms. Merkel dealt with the transition, drawing direct comparisons to the refusal of former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters to acknowledge the election of Mr. Biden.
“We’re witnessing an excellent democratic transition the place there’s a fundamental consensus,” mentioned Christoph Heusgen, Ms. Merkel’s former chief international coverage adviser, who this week took over the presidency of the Munich Safety Convention. “I’m slightly pleased with our democracy the best way it’s managed this transition with out schadenfreude, with out hatred, with out malice.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Ms. Merkel had watched from the customer’s gallery in Parliament — the place her circle of relatives had sat 4 instances to look at her sworn in — as lawmakers voted Mr. Scholz into workplace. She received a standing ovation from the chamber, earlier than quietly slipping out a again door.
From the second she took the oath of workplace in 2005, Ms. Merkel embodied a string of firsts — first chancellor born after World Conflict II, first to hail from the previous East, first girl. Now she has additionally made historical past changing into the primary fashionable chancellor to depart workplace, not by dropping an election or a parliamentary vote, however by deciding she had served lengthy sufficient.
One of many individuals who has most intently documented Ms. Merkel’s political profession is Herlinde Koelbl, a photographer who started taking her portrait in 1991, simply after she had come into workplace as minister for households and youngsters below Chancellor Helmut Kohl.
In an early interview she gave to Ms. Koelbl, the outgoing chancellor insisted she needed to “discover the suitable time to give up politics.” At 67 she is greater than a decade youthful than President Biden and, after a self-imposed interval of relaxation and reflection, will be anticipated to refocus her energies on selling beliefs and concepts she championed whereas in workplace, from international public well being to growth in Africa.
However evaluating Ms. Koelbl’s most up-to-date photographs to these of the younger Merkel, the toll of 16 years on the assist of Europe’s largest financial system are seen. Gone is the open, curious gaze, changed by a extra distant, skeptical look.
“To start with, she had very full of life eyes,” Ms. Koelbl mentioned, “and now she seems at you, however the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared in her eyes.”
On Wednesday, as she left the handover ceremony within the chancellery, Ms. Merkel appeared relaxed, joyful even. Strolling to the door, she turned to Mr. Scholz.
“And now to work,” she mentioned.
Reporting was contributed by Christopher F. Schuetze in Berlin and Alex Marshall in London.