Author’s note: For the indefinite future, most of my digital articles will be short and shorter. Why? Because I have gotten ensnared writing another book – a book that will appear after the next one. My next book – to be published in September by Cambridge University Press – is co-authored with Todd Pittinsky. It is titled, Leaders Who Lust: Power, Money, Sex, Success, Legitimacy, Legacy.
I wrote several times before about the leadership of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Here an example: https://barbarakellerman.com/the-leadership-of-chancellor-angela-merkel/
I turn to her again then not because I ought to but because I want to. I want to because it happens that as she is winding down her tenure as Chancellor – she already announced that in 2021 she will retire as chancellor – she is at the top of her game. And what game she’s got!
- Germany has turned out a paragon among large Western democracies on how to prepare for a pandemic. During Merkel’s fifteen-year tenure, Germany’s government has been highly efficient and well-oiled. Its remarkably prompt “track and trace” response to the virus crisis spared Germany the crippling effects of the pandemic felt elsewhere in Europe – in Great Britain, Italy, and Spain, among others. Moreover, a mere six weeks after Germany’s first deaths from Covid-19, the authorities declared the pandemic under control. None of this was sheer happenstance. Germany was long prepared for an event such as this one, primarily by lavishing money on its healthcare system. Additionally, Merkel was a leader who understood science – and who deeply respected the expertise of the experts. “Before I do anything,” she said, “I need to understand what’s going on here.” This explains why from day one Germany’s leading virologists played an outsized role in shaping the country’s policy response to the corona virus.
- After years of preaching fiscal austerity, Merkel is deviating from her past pattern. She threw her support behind a post-pandemic stimulus package that includes significant extra spending and tax cuts, as well as generous supports for business. Moreover, among her European counterparts she’s is in the lead, far in the lead. According to the Financial Times, while Germany has “changed its tune in spectacular fashion, in Europe it remains an outlier.” All of Germany’s neighbors have yet to move from funding emergency aid to funding ambitious fiscal programs intended to hasten post-pandemic recoveries.
- Finally, one of Merkel’s boldest move yet – one to save the hobbled European Union. Long known for her natural proclivity toward cautious and conservative incrementalism, Merkel recently reached a landmark agreement with French president Emmanuel Macron generously to contribute to a European recovery fund. Its purpose is to help the EU’s hardest hit members get past the current financial crisis – which was set off, of course, by the current health crisis. There is no overestimating the importance of this initiative. Whether or not the Eurozone has the capacity to take advantage of the money that’s on the table is too early to tell. What is not too early to tell is that without Germany’s (and France’s) willingness to step into the breach, and without Merkel’s (and Macron’s) readiness to step up to the plate, the EU’s time of troubles would certainly have been destined indefinitely to continue.
The incumbent chancellor has long been and remains still a remarkable exception to the general rule. She is a leader of a liberal democracy who is able at this time, in this moment, to govern wisely and well. Says something very good about Merkel as a 21st century leader. Says something equally good about Germans as 21st century followers.