BERLIN – When Angela Merkel hosted world leaders at a seaside resort on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast in 2007, she was barely on her first term as Chancellor, a relative neophyte in world affairs with a bright green jacket from eight men in dark suits highlighted her status as the club’s only woman.
By the time the Group of 8 – Russia was still a member – concluded the summit in Heiligendamm, Merkel signaled her future influence, making her mark on the debates by securing the agreement of President George W. Bush, once a Texas. oil company, that climate change was a global threat.
Fourteen years later, Merkel, who is considering stepping down as chancellor after the German elections in September, is attending her last G7 summit, this time on the Cornish coast. Some things have changed (leaders no longer dispute the threat of climate change), and others have not (Merkel remains the only woman elected leader of the club).
But it is the prospect of Merkel’s absence in the future that represents a potentially significant change – for the major industrialized countries that make up the group, for a Europe where she has been a dominant leader and for the fact that no other elected female leader has emerged to take her place. (Ms Merkel helped place one of her protégés, Ursula von der Leyen, as President of the European Commission.)
“Just think what the photo will look like when it leaves,” said Katja Iversen, adviser to the Women Political Leaders group, who participated in the gender discussion at the 2018 summit in Canada, where President Donald J Trump was seated. alongside Merkel and Christine Lagarde, then head of the International Monetary Fund – and showed up late.
Summits are often about rituals and photo ops, but Merkel has used her blend of influence and charm, and her willingness to negotiate deep into the night, to push forward issues long neglected as relevant to the economy. global, including climate, sustainability and gender equality.
“When you look at Merkel, a lot of people only see her as an anchor of stability, which she is. Because of her style, knowledge and experience, she can really build confidence,” Stormy said. -Annika Mildner, executive director of the Aspen Institute Germany in Berlin, who has worked for Merkel at previous summits as a negotiator on trade issues. “But a lot of people don’t see how important she has been and premonitory to place and shape subjects in the G7 process. “
For many in the West – if not always everyone in Germany itself – Ms Merkel is often seen as a defender of liberal democracy who, at different times, has acted as a one-woman firewall against Mr Trump and the President. Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Now, Germany and Europe will look to new leaders to shape foreign policy on issues such as military spending, Russia and especially China.
“She is no longer in a position to make major political decisions,” said Stefan Kornelius, editor-in-chief of the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung and one of its biographers. “She’s now a political lame duck and she has less political clout.”
At the height of her powers, Merkel’s world diplomacy was defined much more by substantive negotiations than by grandiloquence or political demagoguery. Patience and perseverance have become his hallmarks, although some wonder if his compromising style and approach have not lost their luster.
“This is how she has kept Europe united despite the migration crises, Ukraine, the euro and Trump,” Kornelius said. “But I wonder if in the future the world is all about compromise.”
While her public modesty has won her praise, Merkel’s lack of vision has been a constant point of criticism and her negotiating skills have repeatedly failed to implement the policy she hoped for. of business.
At the 2015 summit, she failed to come to an agreement on a transatlantic trade deal, and throughout the years of the Trump administration, she never succeeded in convincing the U.S. president that the trade surplus of the Germany was not a problem that could be solved by sanctioning European products. More importantly, perhaps, her long policy of “change through trade” with China failed to produce the reforms she envisioned.
The big plans of other leaders do not inspire him either, as evidenced by his disinterest in the noble proposals of President Emmanuel Macron of France for the overhaul of the European Union.
Unlike Mr Macron, who tries to throw the diplomatic ball very far, and if he gets halfway to his goal is happy, Merkel rolls the ball with her, “and when it stops she will say : ‘This is where we wanted to go,’ said Daniela Schwarzer, former head of the German Council on Foreign Relations and now executive director for Europe and Eurasia of the Open Society Foundation.
At her first summit in Heiligendamm, Merkel called for increased governance of global financial markets – a year before the collapse of the US real estate market plunged the world into a deep financial crisis – and raised public awareness to sustainability. It has also elevated global health as a problem, securing billions to fight the spread of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis in Africa.
But his great success has been to get Mr. Bush to re-commit to a global deal on climate policy. Although she initially hoped that Mr. Bush would commit to more ambitious reductions in CO2 emissions, Ms. Merkel instead took whatever compromise she was able to achieve and continued to build on it.
Eight years later, in 2015, in her second round as host of the G7, she opened the summit by addressing the problem of plastics polluting the oceans. Next, she secured a commitment from participating countries to work towards reducing global greenhouse gas emissions to between 40% and 70% by 2050, a step that helped midwives reach the Accord. Paris later in the year.
“She has very concrete ideas about what she wants to get out of these meetings,” said Claudia Schmucker, head of geoeconomics at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
The iconic image from that summit showed Merkel facing President Obama, arms outstretched in a gesture as vast as the Alps rising behind her, signaling renewed cooperation after the two buried their differences over intelligence and activities of the National Security Agency in Europe.
But when Mr Trump showed up in Hamburg two years later – this time Merkel was leading an expanded Group of 20 summit – she was faced with a new US president indifferent to multilateralism. She struggled to include language on the Paris Climate Agreement in the final declaration, while Mr. Trump left meetings earlier and left his seat to chat with Mr. Putin.
“At a time when people wondered why we needed these expensive forums, with all the security,” Ms. Schmucker said, “she managed to save the top by putting this there, even though the Trump administration was so against.
In Cornwall, Merkel was once again expected to focus on crafting strong climate language when the topic is discussed on Sunday, this time pushing for net zero carbon emissions.
She certainly isn’t interested in a showy farewell. His office repeatedly rejected repeated questions from reporters before he left Germany about whether there would be recognition of his swan song.
One issue she brought to the fore in 2015 is missing this year: gender. Even like international studies show that women have left the workplace in record numbers and struggled to balance work and life, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, the only mention of gender on the summit’s agenda is a nod to the importance of girls’ education in global development.
For the majority of the summits she has attended, Ms Merkel has been the only female leader – Theresa May joined her in 2017 and 2018, when she was UK Prime Minister – and her impending absence has raised concerns about the persistence of the kind. to have pride of place on the agenda.
For Kati Marton, author of a forthcoming biography titled “The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel”, it was not the brilliance or speed that made Merkel consistent, but how she managed to transform the society and leadership by not attracting attention. to itself.
“Women don’t give it enough credit,” Marton said. “But under his watch, women became an accepted part of the power structure.”
Ms Merkel “has redefined what a woman in power looks and acts like,” Marton said. “Her most remarkable distinction is that she has shown that a woman in power behaves differently and accomplishes things, not despite being a woman, but in part because of her gender and her ability to park. his ego when it comes to getting things done.
“And I don’t associate that quality with many male leaders. “
Melissa Eddy reported from Berlin and Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels.