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Angela Merkel’s Tragedy

History dealt German Chancellor Angela Merkel massive challenges: a series of eurozone crises that drove wedges between Europeans; social fragmentation fueled by economic tensions; and the largest migration wave since World War II. Rather than resolve them, however, she chose merely to manage them.

BERLIN – What we care about most is often our undoing. So it was for Angela Merkel, who recently announced her intention to step down as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in December and as Germany’s chancellor in 2021.

History placed Merkel amid raging storms: a series of eurozone crises that drove wedges between Europeans; economic tensions at home that fueled social fragmentation; and the largest migration wave since World War II, which intensified European and domestic anxieties. But, rather than rocking the boat, risking her survival, she chose temporary fixes that let the vulnerabilities fester.

Perhaps her nail-biting ascent to the chancellorship conditioned her. In the September 2005 election, she enjoyed a large early lead in opinion polls. Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had failed to bring down the unemployment rate, which stood at almost 12%, and his Social Democratic Party had lost a string of state elections. Yet Merkel’s poor communication of her policy priorities, together with a lackluster debate performance, nearly cost her the election.

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