On March 4, 2021, two distinguished scholars joined the Vail Symposium to discuss the legacy of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s future.
- Dr. Karen Donfried began by asking Dr. Constanze Stelzenmuller about her choice for the program title–“Angela the Almost-Great.” Stelzenmuller acknowledged that Germany’s third post-reunification chancellor, Merkel was elected by a razor-thin margin in 2005 and as a woman and an East German, the least likely candidate. She has emerged as Germany’s most popular politician and has overseen Germany’s rise over the past 15 years. And yet, there were notable mistakes that she elaborates on later in the program.
- Donfried pointed out that Merkel is not naturally charismatic or given to drama, although she has made dramatic decisions such as phasing out nuclear power and welcoming refugees in 2015. Stelzenmuller agreed that Merkel is known for a complete lack of public charisma, does nothing flashy, and avoids the trappings of power. However, she is extremely shrewd. In person, she is very funny and does great impersonations of other world leaders.
- Regarding Merkel’s relationship with President Obama, Stelzemuller conceded that initially, Merkel was unimpressed with Obama, finding him glib and inexperienced. Their relationship grew into one of mutual admiration. Both had challenging issues such as responding to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, which Merkel led the charge to impose sanctions.
- However, it was with Russia, in particular the Nordstream 2 project, that Stelzenmuller specifically faulted Merkel, calling it a politically damaging project. Currently, Germany sources 30-50% of its gas from Russia.
- Economically however, Germany’s more significant relationship is with China. Germany’s economic relationship with China is massive. Whereas, its relationship with Russia is on par with Italy or the Czech Republic. Stelzenmuller acknowledged that there are German companies doing business in Xinjiang.
- Regarding the more recent status of Germany’s relationship with the United States, Stelzenmuller put it bluntly–for Germany the past four years were traumatizing. Trump embodied the caricature of the “ugly American.”
- Trump displayed both animus and angst towards Germany and felt Merkel lectured him.
- Stelzenmuller predicted that the immediate future would likely be a time of some introspection on the part of Germany. All eyes will be on September 26, 2021 when Germany holds its next general election and a new chancellor is chosen.