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Angela Merkel and the End of an Era

Angela Dorothea Merkel was underestimated in 1991, when the late Helmut Kohl made her part of his government. First, she became Minister for Women and Youth. Then Kohl even gave her the environment department. A relatively young Angela Merkel with insecurities had to stand in front of cameras all of a sudden. Lots of them.

Only a year before she became minister, Merkel, a physician whose institute was going to be given up after the reunification of Germany, was part of a movement called Demokratischer Aufbruch (‘Democratic Awakening’, DA) in the communist GDR. She led that organization into a process which would merge it with Helmut Kohl’s conservative party CDU (‘Christian-Democratic Union’).

A bit earlier, in October of 1990, 28 years ago, Angela Merkel was a DA delegate at an important CDU party convention in Hamburg, her birth city. Up there in the north she met Chancellor Kohl. He was impressed. Also he knew it was all about integrating as many Eastern Germans into his party as possible.

In 1999, Merkel was not Kohl’s ‘little girl’ anymore. As the CDU’s secretary general, she criticized him in an opinion piece for the Frankfurter Allgemeine daily, since he refused to name donors when a party donation scandal erupted. It did not take long until Merkel became the CDU’s chairlady.

By the year 2000, the insecure politics novice had developed into an experienced player. With her former adversary Volker Rühe, she showed up in Washington D.C., where she discussed bilateral relations with senators on the Hill and already behaved like a head of government.

But she would have to wait five years, until Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the SPD suffered yet another major defeat in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s largest province, and called for early elections. On September 18th, 2005, the Berlin Bundestag made Merkel the first female Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Even before reaching the peak of her career, she had moved the CDU leftwards, towards the center. And she modernized the party. The CDU had mainly been ruled by a bunch of old guys around Kohl, with a few quota ladies. It was different now. At this point, Merkel’s adversaries, who had underestimated her from the start, had to admit to themselves that they made a big mistake.

Merkel lead two grand coalitions, one of which is still ruling Germany right now, and one conservative-liberal coalition. At times she to dipsy-doodled. For example she agreed to end the nuclear power era in Germany during her first grand coalition with the SPD. Then, while ruling with the liberal FDP, she exited the nuke exit. But when she saw reactors in Fukushima explode on television, she exited the nuke exit’s exit.

There was one Kohl trait she adopted, which is sitting out problems. Merkel followed that strategy successfully, until the problems became too grave during the Refugee Crisis of 2015. Since, the world has become a lot more complicated with people like Trump, Erdoğan and Putin. Domestically, the far right returned and the political landscape started changing.

After suffering massive losses in two state elections this month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said today, she was not going to run for the chair of the CDU anymore. Furthermore, she said she would not be Chancellor after the end of this legislative period in 2021. Nor did she want to even return to the Bundestag after leaving the Chancellery.

Merkel also killed rumors according to which she was considering running for a position at the E.U. or the United Nations, by saying she did not want to have any political position from 2021.

In the past the Chancellor had always said she believed the Chancellor should be head of the party as well. Now she left that stance. “I believe separating the two now has more opportunity than risks”, she stated.

This means the Merkel era will be over rather soon. Since her government is shaky, her departure might take place even sooner than expected. Two candidates who want to take over the helm of the CDU have already surfaced. One of them is Merkel’s former adversary Friedrich Merz, the other one her friend and secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

In yesterday’s state elections in the German province Hesse, the CDU reached 27 percent of the votes, 11 percent less than five years ago. Two weeks ago, things did not turn out that well in Bavaria either, where her sister party, the ultra-conservative CSU, lost substantially as well.

Merkel’s latest announcement about not wanting to head the party anymore was supposed to take away some of the pressure resulting from those two defeats. On the other hand, the Merkel era would likely have ended soon anyway.