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Angela Merkel leaves German chancellery after 16 years

German Chancellor Angela Merkel formally handed over power to her successor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday, leaving her office in central Berlin by motorcade.

Angela Merkel receives flowers from new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Angela Merkel receives flowers from new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

With the same stoicism that had marked Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office, the outgoing German chancellor left power behind on Wednesday, looking straight ahead as the Audi car she was in drove out of the chancellery.

Merkel accompanied key moments of a highly symbolic day when Scholz and his coalition of SPD, Greens and the liberal FDP officially took power.

Dressed in her signature blazer-trouser set, this time in deep blue, she was seated up in the public stands next to former president Joachim Gauck as Scholz was formally elected by parliament.

The Bundestag lower house opened the day with a two-minute standing ovation for her, something that she acknowledged standing and waving.

As she climbed into her car at the end of the ceremony in the chancellor, it was also to applause from her staff.

A handful of people had gathered outside the gates, hoping to catch a glimpse of the veteran leader who was once the world’s most powerful woman.

“I came to see Merkel for a last time,” said Enrique Velazco, 30. “She stood for stability for the world, including Europe and Germany. I like her because she is pragmatic, I’m a little sad today.”

But Merkel herself did not shed a tear, at least publicly.

And little else betrayed her emotions, something that the mask that she was obliged to wear under coronavirus rules perhaps helped to hide

‘Highly motivated’

During the handover of the Chancellory on Wednesday, Merkel gave a short speech and urged Scholz to work in the country’s best interest as she came to the end of 16 years in office.

“I know you are starting work highly motivated,” she told Scholz at her chancellery in Berlin, adding: “take this office and work in the best interest of our country – that is my wish.”

READ ALSO: Scholz vows new beginning for Germany has Merkel exits

Merkel said she knew from her own experience that it was a moving moment to be elected to office in Germany. 

“As you perhaps can imagine it’s an exciting, fulfilling job – and a demanding one,” said Merkel. “But if you approach it with enthusiasm then it is perhaps one of the most wonderful jobs there is – to bear responsibility for this country.” 

Scholz thanked his predecessor for her service as Chancellor to Germany. 

During her time in office, Merkel had to deal with many crises, said Scholz – some of which they had overcome together.

“That brought us together,” Scholz said, adding that there has always been trust and cooperation between them.

Scholz also thanked the people of Germany – and the Bundestag – for giving him the “mandate” to become chancellor.

The changeover marked the end of 16 years of Merkel in the top job in German politics. She announced in October 2018 that she intended to step down after her term ended. 

‘Take a little nap’ –

Merkel herself was sworn in on November 22nd, 2005, then taking over from Gerhard Schröder of the centre-left SPD and putting her conservative CDU-CSU bloc in charge.

This time, the power transfer went the other way, though both sides had so often stressed “continuity” that one could be forgiven for thinking they were from the same political families.

The first chancellor not to seek reelection of her own accord, Merkel walks away from politics after three decades as an MP.

Her popularity remains intact and observers believe the 67-year-old could have won a fifth term had she sought it.

She has offered few clues on what she might do in her retirement, saying only in a trip to Washington this year that “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”.

However, she did reveal on Tuesday that  she would in the future be based from the former office of Margot Honecker — the wife of East Germany’s longtime leader and the communist state’s education minister, just steps away from the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

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

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POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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