Angela Merkel – the EU champion’s time in power and policy failures

Merkel 'never stood up for a vision of Europe' says expert

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Angela Merkel became the first female Chancellor of Germany some 17 years ago on November 22, 2005. She remained at the helm for 16 years, serving alongside five British Prime Ministers during her tenure. takes a closer look at her time in office where she faced challenges from the eurozone to the refugee crisis. 

In 2010, Greece was hit with a sovereign debt crisis in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007 to 2008 which lead to the country requiring three bailout loans totaling almost £300 million in 2010, 2012, and 2015. 

Greece, which had joined the Euro in 2001, the Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Spain, and Portugal were all bailed out, endorsed by Merkel. The 68-year-old also gave her support to the European Central Bank to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro. 

Merkel – who had initially said there was “no possibility” for Greece to be bailed out – spearheaded “stringent and tough” demands on these bailouts which lead to criticism with the German newspaper, Der Spiegel, calling the measures a “catalogue of atrocities”. 

However, speaking at the World Economic Forum in 2020, Merkel said: “I know that people were very angry with me, [calling me] such a bad person for actually imposing these stringent conditions on Greece and Portugal… But now you see that reforms are taking place.” 


During Merkel’s third term in office, the former Chancellor faced the greatest challenge of her time in office: the refugee crisis. In response to this, Merkel went against her own Party and famously said “wir schaffen das” (we’ll manage this) which some argue then signalled that Germany and more broadly Europe were open to refugees. 

But to some this was seen as a U-turn because in 2010, she had stated that Germany’s attempt at creating a multicultural society had “utterly failed”. 

The Dublin Protocol, which states asylum seekers be returned to the first EU country at which they arrived, was then suspended which is said to have indicated a loss of control of the borders by the German government, and the countries along the Balkan route. 

Approximately 5 million people travelled to escape war and persecution, seeking asylum in the EU from 2015 to 2020 with nearly 40 percent heading to Germany alone.

The number of refugees in Germany led to criticism over the levels of crime in the country with former US President Donald Trump tweeting that crime was “way up”. He also hit out at the German Chancellor for her open-door policy. 

According to a government report published in 2018, violent crime in the state of Lower Saxony increased by 10 percent between 2015 and 2016. The 90 percent increase in violent crime was also attributed to young male refugees. But language classes, sports, and job opportunities were found to improve these statistics rather than not accepting refugees entirely. 

Another survey found that those who arrived in Germany between 2013 and 2016 were finding jobs more quickly than previously with more than 10,000 refugees that arrived in Germany since 2015 managing to master the language to therefore enroll in University. 

While some criticise Merkel for her open-door policies, she won the Nansen Prize from the UN’s refugee agency this year for showing “great moral and political courage”.

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Since the beginning of her tenure, Germany’s economy grew by 34 percent, markedly higher than that of its nearest rival, France, at 19 percent. However, this has, in part, been attributed to the former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s lowering of taxes and other reforms. 

She however did not succeed in “ensuring that the modernisation process of Russia succeeds” which she set out to do with her Government in 2005. Not only this but she was criticised for Germany’s slow embrace of digitalisation with four in 10 companies still using a fax machine frequently according to a survey conducted by Bitkom in 2021. 

However, Spain, France, the UK, and America’s confidence in Merkel grew according to data collected by the Pew Research Centre with her being seen as the “West’s last great hope for liberal democracy” after Trump took to power in 2017. 

Various challenges such as immigration and climate change – a particular sticking point for some as Germany gets more than three-quarters of its energy from fossil fuels – have led to the political landscape of Germany remaining fractious. For instance, the right-wing Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) and the Greens increased in popularity in 2021.

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