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ANGELA MERKEL

Macron hails Merkel’s ‘dignified’ decision to step down in 2021

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hailed Angela Merkel's "extremely dignified" decision to step down as German chancellor in 2021.

Macron hails Merkel's 'dignified' decision to step down in 2021
Merkel and Macron at a meeting in Marseille in September. Photo: DPA

“She has never forgotten what Europe's values are and she leads her country with great courage,” Macron told a press conference following talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

“That's what I have to say on this choice and this extremely dignified announcement.”

The centrist French leader added however that there was “nothing reassuring” about the fact that Merkel's announcement comes against a backdrop of rising support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

“I see that as a European phenomenon, it is not only German,” he told reporters.

“The far-right, I'll remind you, is doing the best of all in France,” he added.

“In France… the party that won the European elections is called the Front National,” he said in reference to the far-right party now renamed the National Rally.

“So this is not new,” he said of the rise of the AfD. “It worries me, but it motivates me.”

Macron added: “If the extreme right is rising, it's because other parties are not managing to provide a response to people's anger or fears.”

He called for “a democratic and credible response” to such anger, and for a war against “all forms of demagoguery and falsehoods”.

Waning power

Merkel had enjoyed the support of Germans as a guarantor of stability and prosperity, having steered the country through financial crises and keeping Europe's biggest economy humming with unemployment striking post-reunification record lows month after month.

But her power has been on the wane since her 2015 decision to keep Germany's borders open at the height of Europe's migrant crisis, ultimately allowing in more than one million asylum seekers.

The mass arrivals left a deep chasm in German society, and fuelled the rise of the AfD, fundamentally redrawing the political map.

While Merkel has essentially given her party three years to put the succession in place, her departure may yet be precipitated if her junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, loses patience and pulls the plug prematurely.

Merkel's party and their Bavarian CSU allies been at the receiving end of voter anger – be it stemming from the migrant influx or bickering within the coalition. The SPD in particular has recorded a haemorrhage of voters.

Plummeting support for the SPD has left the party torn internally over its decision to join the government.

After a drubbing at two regional polls in as many weeks, the SPD has signalled it may walk away if Merkel's centre-right alliance of CDU and Bavarian allies CSU fails to meet its demands.

By September 2019, the party “will be able to see whether this government is still the right place for us”, SPD chief Andrea Nahles said.

With the new CDU chief to be elected by the party as soon as December, it remains to be seen if Merkel's successor would be able to keep the SPD in the coalition until the next general elections, due in 2021.

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POLITICS

Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
 

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.

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