After the elections on September 26, Angela Merkel it will finally leave the German government. In her nearly 16-year tenure, Merkel determined the course of German politics with practically no resistance regarding the general orientation of your government. Even so, the chancellor had to respond to complex situations, such as the financial crisis of 2008, the migration crisis of 2015 and the pandemic by the coronavirus since 2020. How to conceptualize Merkel’s legacy? In the following lines we present a brief balance of his extensive government, from November 2005 to the present. But first, an essential clarification.
Unlike Argentina, in Germany the “country model” is not in dispute. The main political forces do not present substantive differences with respect to the economic, political and social orientation of the nation. This tacit agreement between the main political forces responds to the seamless hegemony of the “Country model” imposed by the ruling classes. In this context, politics as such does not determine the thick line of German society but, rather, its fine line. Merkel’s government and her legacy appear in this context.
Now, let’s start the balance. In economic terms, the German economy presented a moderate but stable growth. However, the poverty rose significantly and inequality much more still. Unemployment fell dramatically, but this decrease was accompanied by an accelerated process of job insecurity through the multiplication of junk contracts, the vertiginous increase in outsourcing and the massive substitution of salaried workers by self-employed workers. Privatizations, industry relocation German to Eastern Europe and financialization represented a characteristic mark of the economy under Merkel’s government.
In terms of foreign policy, Merkel unconditionally accompanied the decisions of the United States, which generated embarrassing situations for Germany on more than one occasion. The bewilderment of German officials at the surprising news of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan represents an example of these situations. During the crisis of Greek debt, in 2010, Merkel determined the imposition of draconian conditions for Greece in exchange for financial help from the “troika” (EU, ECB and IMF). As a consequence of these conditions, the Greek economy has been mired in stagnation for more than 10 years and its public debt, instead of falling, starred in a terrifying rise. Merkel’s credit is her decision, through thick and thin, that the European Union receive a million and a half refugees of the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan between 2015 and 2016. Ironically this decision, undoubtedly the most progressive of his government in terms of foreign policy, generated endless criticism against his leadership and determined the beginning of his political decline.
In terms of domestic politics, Merkel’s government was characterized by conservatism and moderation. Just during his last term, In 2017, Germany established marriage equality. In fact, in the vote on the issue in Parliament, Merkel presented a vote against the project that was finally approved. On gender issues, Merkel did not undertake significant reforms either. The same with regard to the environment. Only in 2020, as a consequence of the pandemic, Germany reached the CO2 emission targets assumed by the government. Finally, Merkel contributed, by act or omission, to the consolidation of a far-right party in the German political system.
In light of the above, Merkel will leave government with a faded legacy behind her. Germany appears today more unjust, more unequal and less supportive than 16 years ago. Faced with this, rather than deliberating on Merkel’s legacy, we should deliberate on the reasons for her stay in power for so long.
Ezequiel Luis Bistoletti is an Argentine professor at the Alice Salomon Berlin University, in Germany, and host of the program “Demolishing myths of politics”.