In other areas, too, Merkel’s approach has failed. Its handling of the euro debt crisis helped secure the bloc’s future, but at the cost of leaving the underlying dynamic intact – over-indebted southern countries and an unbalanced monetary union. His conciliatory approach with Russia, especially over the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, seems increasingly untenable as President Vladimir Putin ruthlessly consolidates his regime.
And while its tendency to avoid censoring Hungary and Poland for their violations of the rule of law protected the bloc from disintegration, it avoided critical questions about the character of Europe. In the absence of Merkel, EU leaders – including whoever’s next German Chancellor – will have to determine the bloc’s future direction. How will she deal with the heightened rivalry between America and China? To what extent will it engage in a more autonomous defense strategy? And how will he fight against the rise of the far right?
At home, a similar pattern prevailed. Look at the economy. Yes, Germany’s export surplus hit a record high during Merkel’s tenure, and GDP hit a record high in 2019. But it came at the cost of increased dependency – some say excessive – with regard to the Chinese market, which Merkel has done little to remedy. Moreover, by shielding the German auto industry from more ambitious carbon emissions targets, Merkel has effectively exonerated executives from the need to innovate. This is one of the reasons why German automakers scramble to keep up with their American and Chinese counterparts.
Then there is climate change. Trying to protect key industries and fearing to impose too many changes on voters, Merkel refrained from any large-scale plans to cut emissions until the end of her term. And although the share of renewables increased to 45% during his tenure, many experts agree that on its current trajectory, the country will not meet its goal of being carbon neutral by now. 2045. Despite being regarded abroad as the “climate chancellor”, Merkel has taken only very minor steps to address the defining issue of our time.
All of this makes for a country that is both cozy and pampered, ignoring the dangers that await you behind the scenes. Ursula Weidenfeld, business journalist and author of a recent biography of the Chancellor, compared Merkel’s Germany to the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings” by JRR Tolkien. Peaceful and prosperous, old-fashioned soothing, self-satisfied to the point of delusion, and naive in a sympathetic but bewildering way: the analogy is appropriate.
Ms Merkel protected the Shire, which is what the Germans expected of her and why she won four national elections in a row. But in doing so, she fostered her particular detachment from the world and her reluctance to change, innovate or even discuss different ways forward.
The Chancellor also got stuck in her tracks. Humble and unpretentious, she considered herself a servant of her country. But in return for her service, dedication and skill, she has come to expect, even demand, blind trust. She became more and more impatient with the constant chatter of the German political class.