When Angela Merkel was studying physics at Karl Marx University in Leipzig in the 1970s, she certainly could not have imagined that one day she would be called the leader of the free world and that she would be asked to find compromise solutions between the conservative Calvinism of her compatriots and the more relaxed way of life of the citizens of Southern Europe.

Introversion, moderation, and cautiousness are the basic elements that always characterised the outgoing chancellor, according to a biography that will soon be available in Greek, and excerpts from which the weekend edition of Ta Nea is publishing exclusively.

These characteristics contributed decisively to her remaining in power for 16 years. They prevented her, however, from displaying decisiveness when she should have during the financial crisis during the past decade.

“You have to take action, you are the queen of Europe!” Barack Obama told her in Cannes in 2011. “I can’t. They call me the queen of austerity,” she replied, with a tinge of bitterness.

Four years later, she was persuading Alexis Tsipras that austerity was the only path and that Greece should remain in the EU.

Merkel is leaving power without triumphant declarations and without self-delusion.

When asked which was the toughest moment in her tenure she replied earnestly “when I demanded so much of the Greeks”. Asked what she would like future history books to say about her, the response was “that I tried”.

Were those efforts crowned with success?

The world in 2021 is more insecure than it was in 2005.

Authoritarianism is competing with democracy and nationalism is competing with globalisation.

Nevertheless, Europe is stronger. The post-pandemic recovery package, which Merkel adopted albeit with difficulty by persuading the “parsimonious” to follow suit, promises more prosperity and greater justice.

Whether that promise will be fulfilled no longer depends on her.

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