The speech was a hit.
“She is not a great orator, but this calm message to the nation contributed to the confidence of the people: 80% to 90% felt she can do it,” said Wolfgang Merkel (no relation to the Chancellor), professor of political science at Berlin’s Humboldt University. “When people are deeply insecure about the future, they seek protection and more certainty from the government.”
But when Covid-19 began to spread across the globe, Merkel stepped up once again.
“She started a massive revival, not just in Germany, but also in the world, because for the first time in 150 years, the world is facing a global crisis and people are not looking towards the US for global leadership, they are looking to Merkel,” said Andrea Römmele, a professor at the Hertie School in Berlin.
Merkel’s personal approval ratings are through the roof and she is overshadowing the rest of her coalition government. Her legacy looks to have been saved.
“She will be remembered as a true crisis manager,” Römmele said, pointing to the previous three global or pan-European troubles Merkel had led her country through: the global financial crisis, the Eurozone debt crisis and the migration crisis in 2015. “She is incredible, whenever there is a crisis, she does her best,” she added.
On Wednesday, Merkel unveiled plans for the partial lifting of Germany’s weeks-long lockdown, announcing: “We can afford a bit of courage.” But still, she tempered the relief with caution, insisting: “We have to watch that this thing does not slip out of our hands.”
“The first phase of the pandemic is behind us but we are still at the beginning and it will be with us for a long time,” she said.
Germany as the success story
“I am not a big sympathizer of this government, nevertheless, they were rather successful in containing the crisis … especially if you look at the UK or the US who are seen as the unsuccessful examples,” said Wolfgang Merkel
The Chancellor appeared to grasp the gravity of the situation at an early stage, Merkel said, which made her more credible when the crisis escalated in Europe. “In the UK and the US, in the public eye, the leaders did not accept this was a major challenge, you had these kind of macho politicians saying ‘This is fine,’ and, ‘We will get through this,'” he added.
Gero Neugebauer, renowned German political scientist, said Merkel’s scientific background had shaped her response to the crisis — and added to her credibility. “She is more cautious … basing her response on her knowledge of how science works,” he said. “And she isn’t interested in getting a good image for herself for the next election, but in doing a good job.”
Having already announced her plan to step down, Merkel isn’t facing the same political pressures as the likes of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron or US President Donald Trump, who are all likely to face a fight for reelection in the future.
She is on her way out of politics, and so doesn’t need to get involved in the day-to-day politicking. “[This] allows her to play the role of the careful mother who stands above all the arguments and tussles,” Neugebauer said.
The coronavirus crisis has helped Merkel regain her international voice and credibility at a crucial time for her future legacy.
Merkel’s freshly-rediscovered political appeal begs an obvious question: Would she consider running again and serve a fifth term?
“There have been rumors, there are still rumors, but I think it’s unlikely,” Neugebauer said. “I’ve learned to say ‘Never say never,’ but she has the experience now to know that she would not get the support of the party — the party, the Christian Democrats [CDU], is split.”
“She said it so often that there is no way. This is the end,” Wolfgang Merkel added.