With Olaf Scholz on the Helm in Germany, a New, Unsure Chapter

BERLIN — It was classic Angela Merkel: The lady who has dominated European politics for the higher a part of twenty years handed over her workplace to the following German chancellor, thanked her employees, then walked to the door and made an exit — her closing one.

After 16 years as chief of Germany and unofficial chief of Europe, Ms. Merkel on Wednesday left the workplace she first took over when President George W. Bush was nonetheless within the White House in a characteristically understated manner.

“Congratulations dear Mr. Chancellor, dear Olaf Scholz,” Ms. Merkel informed her successor in a small gathering on the chancellery. “I know from my own experience that it is a moving moment to be elected into this office.”

“It is an exciting, fulfilling duty, a challenging duty, too,” Ms. Merkel stated, “but if you embrace it with joy it is perhaps one of the most beautiful duties there are to be responsible for this country.

Long the world’s strongest feminine chief, Ms. Merkel was the central political determine in Germany and Europe by 4 U.S. presidents and 5 British and eight Italian prime ministers. Her regular accretion of authority drew admirers and detractors alike, however she remained a singular supply of stability for the continent by repeated crises.

Criticized for having didn’t groom a successor, Ms. Merkel, a Christian Democrat, could nicely have accomplished so ultimately. Only — a lot to the frustration of her personal get together — it was a member of her conventional opposition, Mr. Scholz, a Social Democrat and her final finance minister, who was sworn in Wednesday after a marketing campaign that promised continuity.

Still, Ms. Merkel’s departure marks the tip of a transformative period of German politics that she herself referred to as “eventful and often very challenging” — and the start of a brand new and unsure chapter for Germany and Europe.

“It was a big period during which you were chancellor of this country and you did big things,” Mr. Scholz stated after she had formally handed over the chancellery and its employees to him. “There were some big crises we had to deal with, some of them we weathered together.”

That welded us together and not just these events,” Mr. Scholz added. “Between us there was always very trusting collaboration. That is good, I believe, because it shows that we are a strong, capable democracy in which there is a lot of consensus between democrats, cooperation.

Many who labored intently with the departing German chancellor level to her sense of dedication and willingness to compromise as the idea for her energy.

“She was — and she is — the person who was always going in deeply prepared, with a deep sense of responsibility, always looking for the result,” stated Dalia Grybauskaite, who first met Ms. Merkel in Brussels in 2005 and went on to collaborate along with her throughout her personal decade-long time period as president of Lithuania. “And she was ready to compromise to achieve that result.”

The full imprint that Ms. Merkel, a pastor’s daughter from the previous communist East, made on her nation and continent will reveal itself solely within the years forward. But for now the fulcrum of her legacy is extensively thought of to be her determination in 2015 and 2016 to welcome greater than one million asylum seekers into Germany.

The determination sharply divided her nation — notably alongside the outdated East-West fault line — and fueled the emergence of a far-right nationalist motion that grew stronger than at any time because the Nazis.

But it additionally softened Germany’s picture overseas and established her nation as a liberal beacon as populism threatened the very foundations of the West’s democratic order.

“Angela Merkel changed Germany’s image in the world — in a way she saved Germany’s honor,” stated Naika Foroutan, an immigration knowledgeable and professor on the Humboldt University in Berlin. “It went against all expectations that this explicit humanitarian gesture would come from Germany. That symbolic turn, that Germany, the country with the ugly face, proved the rock and took people in, is associated with Angela Merkel.”

The different interval that outlined her time in energy was Europe’s debt disaster, and her tightfisted prescription for lengthy years of painful funds cuts as a manner out of it — one thing many southern Europeans nonetheless haven’t forgiven her for greater than a decade later.

“In parts of Europe Ms. Merkel is seen much more negatively than in other parts of the world,” Ms. Foroutan stated.

The similar is true in Germany itself: Wildly well-liked within the much more populous West of the nation, Ms. Merkel is hated in swathes of the previous Communist East, the place she grew up. The East has grow to be the stronghold of the Alternative for Germany, a celebration created on her watch and the primary far-right get together to have made it into the German Parliament since World War II.

“I know my face is polarizing,” Ms. Merkel conceded two years in the past within the japanese metropolis of Chemnitz after it turned the scene of violent far-right riots. Toward the tip of her time in workplace, protesters would maintain weekly vigils exterior the chancellery and present as much as public occasions she attended to shout “Merkel must go!”

At the time, her approval scores had been dropping quick and it regarded like she may not make it politically by her full fourth time period. It was the pandemic that gave Ms. Merkel, a educated scientist of famously calm temperament, one other honeymoon within the opinion polls.

Mr. Scholz, who was her finance minister over the last 4 years, has a really comparable temperament and capitalized on the parallels. “Not that much will change,” he informed the employees within the chancellery on Wednesday.

“The transition from Merkel to Scholz is so harmonious that you’ve got to ask: What is it between those two?” the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung posited in a latest article. “Merkel was often accused of failing to cultivate a successor. But maybe that isn’t true.”

Much to her personal get together’s irritation, Ms. Merkel stated that she would “sleep tight at night” understanding that Mr. Scholz was working the nation. She invited Mr. Scholz to accompany her to a Group of 20 assembly in Rome in October to introduce him to leaders like President Biden. She has concerned him in each main determination because the election two months in the past. Last the 2 collectively presided over a Covid emergency assembly with the governors of Germany’s 16 states.

During a navy farewell ceremony for Ms. Merkel final week, she wished Mr. Scholz — whom she referred to as “Dear Olaf” — “all the best and a lucky hand and much success.” He promptly replied with a praise of his personal. “Angela Merkel was a successful chancellor,” he stated the identical evening on Twitter. “She tirelessly stood up for her country and during 16 years in which a lot changed, stayed true to herself.”

Many Germans expressed satisfaction in how easily Ms. Merkel dealt with the transition, drawing direct comparisons to the refusal of former President Donald J. Trump and his supporters to acknowledge the election of Mr. Biden.

“We are witnessing a very good democratic transition where there is a basic consensus,” stated Christoph Heusgen, Ms. Merkel’s former chief overseas coverage adviser, who this week took over the presidency of the Munich Security Conference. “I am a little proud of our democracy the way it’s managed this transition without schadenfreude, without hatred, without malice.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Ms. Merkel had watched from the customer’s gallery in Parliament — the place her circle of relatives had sat 4 instances to observe her sworn in — as lawmakers voted Mr. Scholz into workplace. She obtained a standing ovation from the chamber, earlier than quietly slipping out a again door.

From the second she took the oath of workplace in 2005, Ms. Merkel embodied a string of firsts — first chancellor born after World War II, first to hail from the previous East, first lady. Now she has additionally made historical past changing into the primary fashionable chancellor to go away workplace, not by dropping an election or a parliamentary vote, however by deciding she had served lengthy sufficient.

One of the individuals who has most intently documented Ms. Merkel’s political profession is Herlinde Koelbl, a photographer who started taking her portrait in 1991, simply after she had come into workplace as minister for households and youngsters underneath Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

In an early interview she gave to Ms. Koelbl, the outgoing chancellor insisted she wished to “find the right time to quit politics.” At 67 she is greater than a decade youthful than President Biden and, after a self-imposed interval of relaxation and reflection, will be anticipated to refocus her energies on selling beliefs and concepts she championed whereas in workplace, from world public well being to improvement in Africa.

But evaluating Ms. Koelbl’s most up-to-date images to these of the younger Merkel, the toll of 16 years on the assist of Europe’s largest financial system are seen. Gone is the open, curious gaze, changed by a extra distant, skeptical look.

“In the beginning, she had very lively eyes,” Ms. Koelbl stated, “and now she looks at you, but the liveliness is gone. The glow disappeared in her eyes.”

On Wednesday, as she left the handover ceremony within the chancellery, Ms. Merkel appeared relaxed, pleased even. Walking to the door, she turned to Mr. Scholz.

“And now to work,” she stated.

Reporting was contributed by Christopher F. Schuetze in Berlin and Alex Marshall in London.

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