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Angela Merkel Ends Her Historic Reign As Germany’s First Female Chancellor

Angela Merkel Ends Her Historic Reign As Germany’s First Female Chancellor

Angela Merkel sealed her place in history as soon as she became Germany’s first female chancellor on Nov. 22, 2005. Over the sixteen years she remained in the role, she was credited with raising Germany’s profile and influence. While working to hold a fractious European Union together and managing a string of crises, Merkel emerged as a global role model for women.

Now that her near-record tenure is ending at the still very vital age of 67, Merkel is receiving praise from abroad while continuing to enjoy her enduring popularity at home. Her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, is expected to take office on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: World Economic Forum

Merkel, a former scientist who grew up in communist East Germany, is intentionally retiring about a week short of the record for longevity as a tribute to her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, who holds that record for his own sixteen-year tenure. The German reunification took place while Kohl was at the helm and he is often credited for brokering the peace of the once-fractured nation.

Named “The World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Forbes magazine for the past 10 years in a row, Merkel steps down with a legacy of breaking through the glass ceiling of male dominance in politics — although she also has faced criticism for not pushing harder for more gender equality. Merkel leaves Germany with lower unemployment and healthier finances, but also with well-documented shortcomings in digitization — many health offices resorted to fax machines to transmit data in the pandemic — and what critics say was a lack of investment in infrastructure.

Merkel’s career spanned the terms of four U.S. presidents, four French presidents, five British prime ministers, and eight Italian premiers. Her chancellorship was marked by four major challenges: the global financial crisis, Europe’s debt crisis, the 2015-16 influx of refugees to Europe, and the coronavirus pandemic. She also famously scorned Donald Trump, with whom she had a tense and difficult relationship.

The incoming governing coalition under Olaf Scholz says it wants to “venture more progress” for Germany after years of stagnation. But Merkel’s popularity ratings point to the opposite, outpacing those of her three would-be successors. Unlike her seven predecessors in postwar Germany, she is leaving office at a time of her choosing.

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