A lookback at Angela Merkel’s 16-year leadership of Germany
Since 2005, Merkel has worked with four US presidents, four French presidents, eight each of Italian and Japanese PMs, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping in China, and Putin in the Kremlin for most of her term with Medvedev in between.What is Merkel's legacy? Talking to interlocutors in Germany, it seems that Merkel’s real legacy is that she led Germany to a level of satisfaction as upper middle class, middle-power citizens. Neither controversial nor prominent, yet Germany was efficient and satisfied at her ability to lead.
Before Brexit, it was Merkel, the UK Prime Minister, and the French President, who moved the EU. The UK felt the brunt of Merkel's annoyance when they pushed for Brexit.The stabilisation of the Euro, the support to the Southern European countries after the 2008 financial crisis, and the support for extra ordinary post-COVID euro 750 billion borrowing by the EU were, indeed, part of her legacy. Without her backing (after initial reluctance), the large economic package would not have fructified. Merkel could fly down to nearby capitals and canvass leaders for her point of view. This leadership quality of Merkel guided EU policies on critical issues and will, perhaps, be missed most by Brussels, which quietly depended on her to get the agenda through. The coalition of the Nordic and other EU members arose during the COVID package discussions and is a part of Merkel’s legacy. These coalitions will play a larger EU role post Merkel. The second aspect of German external relations deals with the United States (US) and Russia. Merkel tried to maintain smooth relationships with both powers. The Transatlantic Alliance was conducive with the Bush, Obama and now Biden administrations. However, the deep annoyance caused by Trump's criticism of Merkel manifested the US establishments diminished sense of value for Germany. It felt that Germany was becoming too much of a trader nation, assuming too little of strategic responsibility. Now, even if Germany was to increase its defence expenditure to 2 percent of GDP and other Europeans followed suit, post Trump America will not be satisfied. The Transatlantic Partnership would have been a useful legacy for Merkel. She can claim success for having maintained it for many years. In the last years, cleavages emerged. The US did not become a part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as Obama had promised, and Trump became more demanding when it came to Germany and the EU doing more for NATO. Smaller European countries complied better. Merkel kept Germany out of US ventures in Iraq and was critical of intervention in Libya. Though German troops participated in the Afghanistan venture, they refused deployment in the more critical areas. Merkel's desire to not rock the domestic boat, kept Germany out of overseas conflicts. The third aspect dealt with Russia. Merkel remained critical of Putin's domestic political restrictions and persecution of opponents. She abhorred cyber-attacks against and cyber bullying of Germany. She was willing go beyond the concerns of several other EU partners to push for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which she has seen almost completed. This approach to Russia, where economic partnership was welcomed, and sanctions imposed for actions in Crimea and Ukraine remains a mixed legacy. Some call it a muddle but it was true Merkelianer, remaining associated with an important power despite little political success.
Merkel remained critical of Putin's domestic political restrictions and persecution of opponents. She abhorred cyber-attacks against and cyber bullying of Germany.A similar approach to China is now looking less successful. At the behest of German business, Merkel built rapport with Chinese leaders and business. Germany and China have a successful economic engagement. Even now, Xi Jin Ping looks to Merkel to make the EU understand China better. The EU has declared China a systemic rival and Merkel's view, of doing business with China with the hope that they will politically reform, is now challenged within the EU. The EU and German business relationships with China are truly a Merkel legacy. In her final presidency of the EU, she managed to get China to sign up on a comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI), which shocked many. It is more of an aspirational agreement on the part of Europe and economic gain for China. It has now run aground at the European Parliament. Thus, China's aggressive policies, particularly in Asia, are overlooked by Merkel, who spoke for German business and did not want to disturb the success they had had with China. Whatever be China's internal problems (Uighurs or Hong Kong) or intents in Asia, Merkel was China's best friend in Europe. With her departure, a more critical approach to China from the EU is possible. Within Germany. business leaders will keep asking the leadership to remain abreast of China so that their economic activities are not reduced. The China + 1 strategy which the Quad is promoting was of little interest to Merkel.
China's aggressive policies, particularly in Asia, are overlooked by Merkel, who spoke for German business and did not want to disturb the success they had had with China.Merkel institutionalised the partnership with India. This was through the biannual Intergovernmental Consultations (IGC) since 2011. Merkel never missed a meeting. She always looked to engage PM Modi and his predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, as important parts of the G 20 and discussed international issues with them. After the pandemic, she had several phone calls with PM Modi. In Merkel's mind, India was always an important partner. Germany was trying to do more on the SDGs, climate and solar energy, and therefore, could be a good partner. However, unlike China, where German industry was pushing Merkel to maintain the partnership, German industry had lesser interest in India compared to China. India-German trade and investment more or less plateaued in the last five years, and needs a new push. This is something that Merkel could not bring herself to do. The German Indo-Pacific policy guidelines, issued during Merkel's last year in office, were welcome for showing interest in Asia again. However, these guidelines had red lines of not irritating China and not having a potent Navy to play a significant role. At least it could be a springboard for a China + 1 strategy.
Merkel never missed a meeting. She always looked to engage PM Modi and his predecessor, Dr Manmohan Singh, as important parts of the G 20 and discussed international issues with them.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Gurjit Singh has served as Indias ambassador to Germany Indonesia Ethiopia ASEAN and the African Union. He is the Chair of CII Task Force on ...Read More +