In other cases, too, Mrs. Merkel’s outlook has diminished. The euro debt crisis helped secure the future of its handling bloc, but at the cost of surpassing the underlying dynamics – an overly unbalanced southern country and an unbalanced financial union. His compromising approach to Russia, at least not to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, seems even more incompetent because of President Vladimir Putin’s ruthless consolidation of his rule.
And while the tendency to prevent Hungary and Poland from suppressing him for violating the rule of law protected him from breaking the bloc, it avoided the necessary questions about the character of Europe. In Mrs. Merkel’s absence, European leaders – including Germany’s next chancellor, whoever it may be – will have to determine the future course of the bloc. How will this navigate the increased rivalry between America and China? How much autonomous defense strategy will it adopt? And how will it fight the rise of the right?
At home, a similar pattern prevails. Look at the economy. Yes, Germany’s export surplus reached an all-time high during Mrs. Merkel’s tenure, and in 2019 GDP reached record highs. Merkel has done very little to deal with it. What’s more, by protecting Germany’s car industry from more ambitious carbon-emission targets, Mrs Merkel has effectively expelled managers from the need to innovate. One reason German car companies keep pace with their American and Chinese counterparts.
Then there is climate change. In an effort to protect key industries and impose too much change on voters, Mrs Merkel refrained from any far-reaching plans to reduce emissions until her term expires. And although the share of renewable energy rose to 5 percent during his tenure, many experts agree that on its current path, the country will not be able to meet its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2055. Mrs. Merkel has taken very few steps to address the defined problems of our time.
It all adds up to a country that is comfortable and isolated together, unaware of the dangers waiting in the wings. Ursula Weidenfeld, an economics journalist and Chancellor’s recent biographer, compared Mrs. Merkel’s Germany to a shire in JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” Peaceful and prosperous, peacefully old-fashioned, self-satisfied at the point of confusion, and polite in a desirable yet restless way: the analogy is appropriate.
Mrs. Merkel defended Shire, which the Germans expected of her and why she won four consecutive national elections. But by doing so, he is reluctant to discuss its strange isolation from the world and change, innovation or even different ways.
The Chancellor also got in his way. Humble and unprecedented, he saw himself as a servant of his country. But in return for his service, dedication, and competence, he came to expect – demand, even – blind faith. He has become increasingly impatient with the perpetual chatter of Germany’s political class.