Kohl’s ‘girl’ turns on mentor
Merkel, a pastor’s daughter and scientist who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, only became politically active in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell.
She briefly served as a deputy spokeswoman for the first democratically elected East German government, before winning election in 1990 to the reunified German parliament as a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
Then-chancellor Helmut Kohl, who gave Merkel the patronising nickname “das Mädchen” (the girl), named her minister for women and youth in 1991, setting off her career.
When Kohl got bogged down in a political slush fund scandal, it was Merkel who told him it was time to go.
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She was elected CDU party chief in 2000 with more than 95 percent of the vote and in 2005 became Germany’s first woman chancellor.
Nuclear power? Nein danke.
Merkel stunned the world when, after Japan’s 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown, she reversed her pro-nuclear stance and announced that German atomic reactors would be phased out by 2022.
Long called the “climate chancellor”, she has also pushed Germany’s energy transition, which has ramped up wind and solar power and aims to meet 80 percent of demand with renewables by 2050.
However, Merkel’s green credentials have been bruised because Germany’s continued strong reliance on dirty coal means it will miss its 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Merkel has also been called the “car chancellor” for her strong lobbying for Germany’s powerful auto sector that has been hit by the “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal and a wave of urban driving bans for diesel vehicles.
Eurozone’s ‘Madame Non’
All eyes turned to Merkel when, in the wake of the global financial crisis, Greece in 2010 plunged into a sovereign debt crisis and the survival of the eurozone itself seemed in doubt.
Merkel and her then finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble demanded painful budget cuts and tax hikes in Greece in return for backing three international rescue packages worth more than 300 billion euros ($320 billion).
The tough stance saw her vilified as Europe’s heartless austerity queen and caricatured in SS uniform.
Merkel resisted calls to forgive Athens’ massive debt, a position that in France earned her the nickname “Madame Non”.
Refugee crisis? ‘We can do it’
If many saw her as heartless during the eurozone crisis, they condemned her as too soft, naive or moralistic in the refugee and migrant crisis.
At the height of the influx, in September 2015, she opted against shutting the German-Austrian border to the thousands crossing a day, about half from war-torn Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
As the mass influx, which would top one million people, started unsettling many Germans, she kept insisting that “Wir schaffen das” (“we can do it”).
Merkel has since backed efforts to tighten asylum rules and shutter the EU’s outer borders.
But the far-right and anti-immigration party that has emerged since, the
Alternative for Germany (AfD), insists that “Merkel must go”.
2017-18: Political twilight?
The AfD has since entered the German parliament and all state assemblies, coarsening the tone of German politics from the opposition benches.
Merkel’s CDU, like other mainstream parties, lost millions of votes to the AfD in September 2017 polls, vastly complicating coalition building efforts.
It took Merkel’s conservatives half a year to cobble together an unhappy “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats (SPD) that has only a thin majority, and the alliance has been rocked by infighting since.
Squabbles centred on immigration between Merkel and her Bavarian Interior Minister Horst Seehofer have twice brought the alliance to the brink of collapse.
The bickering in Berlin has in turn damaged the mainstream parties in two October regional polls, in Bavaria and Hesse.
In the clearest sign yet that she is preparing for her eventual succession, Merkel has said she will not stand again for reelection as CDU leader in December and will step down as chancellor when her current mandate ends in 2021.