From lame duck to global leader, how Merkel changed her fate

From lame duck to global leader, how Merkel changed her fate
Mekel's coronavirus leadership helped to boost her popularity. Source: CNN
5 Min Read

Daily US Times: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not a typical politician when it comes to public appearances and speeches. She only addresses her nation once a year, in a pre-recorded New Year’s message. But when she decided to update the nation about the coronavirus outbreak in March, it was the first unscheduled televised address she had given in almost 15 years of her leadership.

The speech was a hit.

Merkel, presented the grim facts of the pandemic while also offering a dose of compassion. When she announced the restrictions due to coronavirus, she referenced her East German background and the difficulty she had with the idea of restricting freedom of movement. Focusing the freedom of movement, she still explained why restrictions so was necessary and got Germans on her side.

Wolfgang Merkel (no relation to the Chancellor), professor of political science at Berlin’s Humboldt University, said: “She is not a great orator, but this calm message to the nation contributed to the confidence of the people: 80% to 90% felt she can do it.”

“When people are deeply insecure about the future, they seek protection and more certainty from the government,” the professor said.

The leadership in this pandemic situation has been a real transformation for Merkel.

The German leader, who is a pastor’s daughter with a doctorate in quantum chemistry, began the year as a lame duck leader. Her political record hugely damaged by the backlash against her “open door” policy for refugees, her succession plan collapsed and her party was rapidly losing ground to the fringes.

Merkel had already announced that she will no longer be the leader of ther party CDU, and will retire in 2021. Even her physical condition was being questioned after she was seen shaking in her several public appearances. But when Covid-19 began to spread across the globe, situation for Merkel has changed and she stepped up once again.

Andrea Römmele, a professor of Berlin’s Hertie School, said: “She started a massive revival, not just in Germany, but also in the world, because for the first time in 150 years, the world is facing a global crisis and people are not looking towards the US for global leadership, they are looking to Merkel.”

Her personal approval ratings are through the roof and she is overshadowing the rest of her coalition government. Her legacy looks to have been saved.

Römmele also mentioned Merkel’s crisis management skills referencing to the previous three global or pan-European troubles she had led her country through: the global financial crisis, the Eurozone debt crisis and the migration crisis in 2015.

“She will be remembered as a true crisis manager. She is incredible, whenever there is a crisis, she does her best,” she added.

Merkel unveiled plans for the partial lifting of Germany’s weeks-long lockdown on Wednesday, announcing: “We can afford a bit of courage. We have to watch that this thing does not slip out of our hands.”

She was courageous but cautious at the same time.

She acknowledged that the first phase of the pandemic is behind, but the country is still at the beginning and it will be around for a long time.

Germany as the success story

Germany has received near-universal praise for the way it has handled the coronavirus epidemic, which caused much of the world in a standstill. It is not just Merkel’s sky-high approval ratings and calm approach that place her in sharp contrast to many other world leaders.

Thye numbers speak for themselves. Compared to other countries, Germany’s Covid-19 death toll has stayed relatively low and its well-resourced health system allowed its hospitals to accept patients from other, more embattled, European countries. Where most nations struggled, Germany became the poster child for coronavirus testing.

The international comparison is one reason to boost her popularity.

Wolfgang Merkel said: “I am not a big sympathizer of this government, nevertheless, they were rather successful in containing the crisis … especially if you look at the UK or the US who are seen as the unsuccessful examples.”

But Wolfgang said the Chancellor appeared to grasp the gravity of the situation at an early stage, which made her more credible when the crisis escalated in Europe.

“In the UK and the US, in the public eye, the leaders did not accept this was a major challenge, you had these kind of macho politicians saying ‘This is fine,’ and, ‘We will get through this,'” he added.

The coronavirus crisis has helped Merkel regain her international voice and credibility at a crucial time for her future legacy.

In July, Germany is due to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. That means Merkel will be chairing key EU leaders’ meetings and representing Europe internationally.

Ursula von der Leyen, the current head of the European Commission, is a long-term Merkel ally. Merkel’s freshly-rediscovered political appeal begs an obvious question: Would she consider running again and serve a fifth term?

“There have been rumors, there are still rumors, but I think it’s unlikely,” Neugebauer said. “I’ve learned to say ‘Never say never,’ but she has the experience now to know that she would not get the support of the party — the party, the Christian Democrats [CDU], is split.”