‘We’ll miss you’: Merkel gets fond farewell in Rome

German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a warm welcome during her visit to Italy on Thursday in one of her last foreign engagements before she steps down.

'We'll miss you': Merkel gets fond farewell in Rome
Chancellor Angela Merkel is greeted by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at the Chigi Palace in Rome. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/LaPresse via ZUMA Press | Roberto Monaldo

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi paid tribute to Merkel as the pair, once hailed as Europe’s power couple, held what is likely to be their last bilateral meeting in Rome.

Merkel, who is bowing out after a historic 16 years in power, also made a private visit to Pope Francis during her visit, where they discussed climate change and the scandal of clerical sex abuse.

She and Draghi worked together closely when he was head of the European Central Bank (ECB) and at a press conference after their talks Thursday, he paid tribute to her “calm, determination and sincere faith in the European Union”.

“She transformed the role of Germany in Europe. We will miss her, but I am sure that we will see her again in Italy – perhaps in more relaxed settings – given her love for our country,” Draghi said.

Merkel responded that he had been “an essential and crucial guardian of the euro”, while also expressing her love for Rome, where she had earlier visited St Peter’s Basilica and was later due to give a speech at the Colosseum.

“Just a day in Rome tells me that you need to live more than a lifetime here to take everything in,” she said, adding: “I’ll definitely come back to Italy, albeit in a different way than before.”

Merkel will stay on as caretaker chancellor while her successors haggle over forming a coalition, a process she said “will definitely be faster than during the last government formation, I’m sure of it.”

READ ALSO: What will Angela Merkel do when she retires – and what will she earn?

Papal audience

Merkel earlier had a private audience with the pope, where they exchanged gifts and discussed the upcoming UN climate talks and the sexual abuse by clergy of children, a problem that has rocked the Catholic Church in Germany, as elsewhere.

“We had important discussions about child abuse,” Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman, told reporters. “I wanted to underline with my visit that we think that the truth must come to light, and the topic must be dealt with.”

She visited the site of a new institute within the Jesuit-run Gregoriana university dedicated to child protection and met with Father Hans Zollner, the Vatican’s leading expert on measures to safeguard minors.

Angela Merkel meets Pope Francis on Thursday in the Vatican.
Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Pope Francis on Thursday in the Vatican. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/VATICAN MEDIA/AP | Vatican Media

EU funds

After the country took a eurosceptic turn under previous governments, Draghi is determined to put Italy back in the heart of the EU.

He praised Merkel for having a “decisive role” in establishing the EU’s post-pandemic recovery fund, of which Italy is the main beneficiary, saying it was a “tangible sign of European solidarity”.

The German chancellor, for her part, said she had “confidence that Italy will give the money out in a good way”.

There are questions of who will now lead Europe after Merkel’s departure.

“Italy will not take Germany’s place, rather Italy will represent Italy and Germany will be Germany. My successor will also be an important voice for Germany and represent Germany,” she said.

READ ALSO: When exactly will Merkel leave office?

Germany is inching towards a government led by Olaf Scholz after the Greens and the liberal FDPs said Wednesday they would try for a three-party coalition with his Social Democrats while shunning Merkel’s conservatives.

The two kingmaker parties’ decision sends the CDU-CSU bloc closer to the opposition, in a major shift for the country after a decade and a half of Merkel’s centre right-led government.


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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”.