FacebookFacebook icon TwitterTwitter icon LinkedInLinkedIn icon Email


Auf Wiedersehen Angela Merkel, what will we do without you?

IbyIMD+ Published 29 December 2021 in Leadership • 5 min read

Merkel made mistakes but she was a rock of stability in turbulent times, and the good news is that her legacy of German stolidity is likely to continue. 


Since Otto von Bismarck, nobody has ruled Germany longer than Angela Merkel or Helmut Kohl. The prince is remembered as the first unifier of Germany, who pounded 25 states and statelets into the new Reich with “blood and iron” in 1871. Kohl entered history as the father of Unification 2.0 in 1990. Not a shot was fired.

Kohl’s achievement looms even larger when comparing his achievement with Bismarck’s. When Bismarck left the stage in 1890, the Wilhelmine Empire – too big for Europe, too small to dominate it – began to slither into the Great War by challenging Britain, France and Russia, uniting them against this fearsome upstart.

So, Kohl did better than Bismarck. His Germany did not turn into the “Fourth Reich” as so many imagined 30 years ago. Instead, it was peace über alles, with Germany submerging itself in Europe and pulling the sting of its rising power.

How does Merkel stack up after 16 years?  She gets good grades for following in the footsteps of Kohl, her mentor. Though Europe’s number one economy, the Federal Republic has confounded the anxious. Great power has not bred ambition, but responsibility. Instead of polishing jackboots, the new Germans celebrate their “culture of reticence” in matters military. By 2013, an international poll by the BBC anointed Germany as the world’s “most positively viewed” nation.

The international media celebrated Merkel as “queen” or “empress” of Europe. She kept a steady hand on the tiller, changing course by just a few degrees to the left or the right while reflexively plumbing the depths for perilous shallows. Domestically, she did not always do as well. Future historians might stick her with three miscalculations and one nasty blow against her own party, the Christian Democrats, which had dominated German politics for decades.

Misstep one followed the nuclear disaster in Fukushima in 2011, caused not by a meltdown, but by the tsunami that killed 2,200 Japanese. Though radiation would claim only one life, Merkel panicked and ordered the successive closure of all German nuclear plants in favor of renewables. The price of the Energiewende thus far? Germany’s electricity rates are the highest in Europe, but it is still by far the largest CO2 emitter in Europe.

A hard act to follow: Angela Merkel has cast a huge shadow over political life in Germany

Login and subscribe to IbyIMD+ subscription

Explore first person business intelligence from top minds curated for a global executive audience