The World Today for November 29, 2021


Auf Wiedersehen, Mutti


Acting German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently warned her fellow Christian Democrats that the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic hitting the Central European country could be “worse than anything we’ve seen,” as Bloomberg wrote. The situation, she said, was already “highly dramatic.” She then called on local government officials to enact stricter measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

These measures would not likely be popular – protests against mask measures and restrictions on entry to restaurants and bars for those unvaccinated have already inspired numerous demonstrations. But the notoriously poker-faced Merkel has been no stranger to unpopular decisions. The question is what Germany will do once she and her straight-talking style are gone when she leaves office, most likely next week.

As the Associated Press explained, Merkel, sometimes called “Mutti” (mommy), is technically now a caretaker chancellor. After 16 years in office, she did not run for reelection in parliamentary elections in late September. She’ll remain in her job until a new government can take her place. That government, led by the Social Democrats, Greens and the Free Democrats, will be voted on next week after a coalition deal was sealed on Nov. 24, the Washington Times reported.

The deal resulted in Olaf Scholz of the left-leaning Social Democrats succeeding her if parliament approves. While Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats will go into opposition, the election was hardly a stern rebuke. Scholz has been Merkel’s vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018 under a grand coalition government. Meanwhile, Merkel has long polled ahead of her party.

Still, an era is ending, as the Washington Post wrote. Merkel made history when she became Germany’s first female leader. In 2009, she was portrayed as hard-hearted during the Eurozone financial crisis, demanding that Greece and other Southern European countries enact austerity budgets while they repaid their debts. In 2015, she was portrayed as soft-hearted when she allowed more than one million refugees from Syria and elsewhere into her country despite the rise of xenophobic sentiments among voters.

Armed with a doctorate in physics, she advocated for the fight against climate change. At the recent climate change meeting in Glasgow, she called on the international community to put aside nationalism in order to protect humanity, the Christian Science Monitor wrote. But more recently, she also presided over Germany increasing its dependence on coal, Clean Energy Wire noted.

Regardless of her actions, she’s always been portrayed as Europe’s top crisis manager.

Now, Scholz will likely preside over the “traffic-light” coalition that derives from the red, yellow and green colors associated with his Social Democrats, the pro-business, libertarian Free Democrats and the environmentalist, social justice-minded Greens. Reflecting a broad set of views, the coalition’s platform appears watered down, the Economist wrote.

Even so, it’s a “remarkable” new direction for Germany and some expect bold strokes out of the new governing coalition, which is the youngest and most liberal in postwar history, the Washington Times wrote.

Still, many say they will miss Merkel, whose departure has prompted a months-long international outpouring of respect and support. At home, there has been no small amount of quiet fretting either. The farewell has been in stark contrast to the departure of Merkel’s political mentor, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who also served 16 years when he stepped down in 1998.

“We were worn out by Kohl – there was a sense of relief when he left,” one voter said. “Merkel, though, ran the country decently, kept things in check, kept things normal.”

On Wednesday, Scholz brought her flowers at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet, likely her last. And as the leader of Europe prepares to depart the world stage, many believe she earned the respect and accolades.

That’s setting a very high bar for her successor.

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