Merkel’s Greatest Achievement

National elections in Germany were held on Sunday. But Angela Merkel will continue to serve as chancellor until the next government can be formed, and her successor is named.

Because Merkel led Germany and even Europe for nearly sixteen years, her imminent retirement was widely covered not only within Germany but without. Journalists and pundits the world over assessed her successes and failures, generally concluding that while she did not walk on water, she was in most ways an ethical and effective leader whose presence on the global stage will be missed.

What could not, however, be known until after the election was over was the decline in popularity of Germany’s far right party, the AfD (Alternative for Germany).  To be clear, the AfD consolidated its strength in East Germany, so by no means should it be relegated to the ash heap of history. Still, the party, which first rose to prominence in 2015 on an anti-immigration ticket, dropped in popularity overall, securing this time around just over 10% of the national vote.

Merkel’s greatest achievement, then, is that she pulled off a hat trick.

  • In 2015, under her leadership, some 1.2 million immigrants, most from Syria, were allowed entry into Germany. Since then the overwhelming majority have been successfully integrated into German society.
  • Notwithstanding this enormous influx, and notwithstanding what in its wake was the considerable appeal of the right-wing AfD, the party has failed, so far at least, to continued to gain traction.
  •  Merkel’s personal and political popularity has held firm. Despite her doing, or maybe because of her doing, what no other world leader has dared to do, allowed in, welcomed in, so many immigrants essentially at a single stroke, her popularity has held at home as well as abroad.

In an era in which suspicion of “the other,” even hatred of “the other,” has been so strong a political force, certainly in the West, Merkel’s leadership on the issue of immigration has nowhere been rivaled. Not even close.   

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