Angela Merkel, the real leader of the free world

Merkel’s chancellorship is so far without grand and singular achievements. Her one-time mentor, Helmut Kohl, championed the euro and presided over German reunification. Willy Brandt, another of her predecessors, moved the world in 1970 when he fell to his knees in Poland at a monument to victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was an apology and an implicit plea for forgiveness that meshed with his outreach to Eastern Europe. Merkel lacks the capacity or will for similar transcendent gestures.

But, after three election victories and nearly a decade in office, Merkel’s chancellorship has acquired its own sizable weight and impact. She has governed longer than most of her peers in the world—with a notable exception in President Putin of Russia. Her accomplishments are less obviously demonstrative than those of some who came before her.

But Merkel has kept Germany wealthy and stable, as many of the countries around it struggle. Germany’s economy is the largest in Europe. Its January unemployment rate of 6.5 per cent was the lowest since reunification. The French rate, by comparison, is above 10 per cent. And, in Spain, it is above 20. Germany’s strength has resulted in a steady increase in its standing and influence in the world.

This, in turn, has forced upon Merkel the issues that may come to define her political career: the eurozone crisis, and the war in Ukraine. She is seen by Putin as the means to reach Europe, and the West looks to her to lead its engagement with Russia. Both sides have no choice but to respect her.