angela merkel cdu TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

Auf Wiedersehen, and Good Riddance

Although German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision not to seek reelection in the next federal election has come as a surprise, it was long overdue. Merkel's "steady hand on the tiller" has guided the German and European ship of state directly into the populists' line of fire.

LONDON – She has been dubbed the Queen of Europe and, since US President Donald Trump’s election, the leader of the free world. As the European Union has lurched from crisis to crisis over the past decade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s steady hand has helped hold the bloc together. According to the conventional wisdom, when she hands over the chancellorship after Germany’s next federal election in 2021 – and perhaps much sooner if her grand coalition collapses – she will be sorely missed.

However, this will hardly be the case. Merkel’s 13 years in office have involved domestic drift and European decay. She has complacently coasted along, failing to address Germany’s mounting economic and security challenges, and allowing Europe’s many crises to fester. Her lethargic managerialism would be tolerable for a small country in quiet times; it is catastrophic for Europe’s dominant power in an era of upheaval.

Unlike many European countries, Germany has enjoyed solid economic growth over the past decade. But Merkel can scarcely take credit for that. Her four governments have enacted no significant growth-enhancing reforms. And in their obsession with running a budget surplus, they have failed to invest in the country’s crumbling infrastructure and education system. Merkel has done nothing to prepare Germany for the digital disruption that threatens to do to its manufacturing heartland – notably its car industry – what Apple’s iPhone did to Nokia. Germany will regret not fixing its roof while the sun was still shining.