As of: 04/17/2023 7:59 p.m
Former Chancellor Merkel has been honored with the highest German medal for personal achievements. Above all, the Federal President emphasized her calm, thoughtful and clear way of governing. But there is also criticism of the award.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier awarded former Chancellor Angela Merkel the Grand Cross in a special design – the highest German medal for personal achievements.
For Steinmeier, it is a pleasure to present this award to an “unparalleled politician”, said the Federal President: “To be honored, Madam Chancellor, for your extraordinarily long term of office and for your extraordinary political life, on which you experienced the dictatorship so much campaigned convincingly for the strengthening of democracy.”
Merkel was also a pioneer – especially as the first woman in the Chancellery. According to Steinmeier, she “had to find and pave her way” – and was underestimated by many. But during her time as head of government, Merkel made sure “that a woman at the head of the government, that female power will always be a matter of course in our country.” Merkel had reshaped the office as chancellor “as a woman and as an East German”.
Controlled by crises and exceptional situations
Merkel had succeeded in helping Germany “again to economic success under unprecedented challenges”. According to Steinmeier, during the CDU politician’s term of office from 2005 to 2021, crises and exceptional situations followed one another and sometimes overlapped. And not many countries would have survived this phase “as well as the Federal Republic”. And the Federal President emphasized: “You have served Germany for 16 years – with ambition, with wisdom, with passion.”
For 16 long years you have worked for freedom and democracy, for our country and the well-being of its people. Tirelessly and sometimes to the limits of your physical strength.
Compromises and the art of negotiation
Steinmeier highlighted the former chancellor’s ability to find and accept compromises, her “insistence on facts” and the art of negotiation, which characterized Merkel. And in a calm, considered manner, despite those who lacked “the battle cry, the heavy saber”.
Just as she was able to acknowledge mistakes – in the form of turning away from longer nuclear power plant runtimes after the reactor catastrophe in Fukushima, for example, or by withdrawing the announced “Easter rest” in the corona pandemic. Especially during the pandemic it became clear that it was “essential” for Merkel to “know what’s going on” and “to learn to understand things”. It was always important to her “to have as few unknowns as possible in her equation,” emphasized Steinmeier. But that was hardly possible during the pandemic.
According to Steinmeier, this acknowledgment of mistakes may have been interpreted by some as a weakness, but the opposite is the case. The ability to “self-correct” – in the eyes of the Federal President, it is a “great, indispensable asset,” especially for the chancellor’s office. And so Steinmeier emphasized again: “It is a strength that you have exemplified this power of self-correction.” This, too, accounts for “the size of your chancellorship and was also a reason for the length of your term of office”.
“We have every reason to be grateful to her”
Like the Federal President, SPD General Secretary Lars Klingbeil also referred to Merkel’s 16-year term of office and the services she had rendered during this time during a visit to the Hanover Fair. The Union currently seems to regret a lot from Merkel’s time in office, but in his eyes Merkel did a lot right, especially in times of crisis, said Klingbeil. The former Chancellor deserved the medal.
Party colleague and Lower Saxony Prime Minister Stephan Weil also took stock of Merkel’s time at the head of the federal government: “We have every reason to be grateful to her.”
Criticism – also from the ranks of the CDU
Criticism of the award for Merkel, on the other hand, came from the Left Party. Before the ceremony, its boss Janine Wissler asked “whether it makes sense to decorate people with medals like Christmas trees with tinsel”. Merkel’s merits she “does not want to talk away”, but her actions as chancellor must be questioned just as critically. Among other things, Merkel has delayed the energy transition, child poverty and social inequality have increased. From Wissler’s point of view, it would be more appropriate to honor more citizens who committed themselves to the common good on a daily basis.
The former parliamentary group leader of the Left Party, Gregor Gysi, also considers the highest federal order of merit for Merkel to be “excessive”, as he says MDR said. Rather, it annoys him that the former SPD chancellor Willy Brandt, who, like Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl, really pursued political goals, did not receive the medal. All other chancellors essentially only administered the Federal Republic.
And even from the ranks of Merkel’s CDU, criticism had been voiced in the run-up to the award ceremony. One has to admit that Merkel made “blatant mistakes” as chancellor, said deputy CDU chairman Carsten Linnemann to the broadcasters RTL and ntv. One example is the lack of protection of the borders during the refugee crisis in 2015. Linnemann emphasized that this should be addressed just as openly as the positive things.
Scholz, von der Leyen and Klinsmann as invited guests
Before Merkel, only the former chancellors Adenauer and Kohl were also honored with the highest German order of merit. Above the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit there is only the special level of the Grand Cross, which every Federal President automatically receives when taking office. Otherwise there is only one award for foreign heads of state.
Merkel herself selected the 20 guests who attended the ceremony at Bellevue Palace in Berlin. Her successor, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and former companions such as the former Federal Minister of the Interior Thomas de Mazière were also present. But the former national coach of the German national soccer team, Jürgen Klinsmann, was also among the guests. However, nobody from the ranks of the current CDU leadership, including Horst Seehofer – during Merkel’s term of office often her political competitor – was not among the selected group of guests.
Merkel thanks guests – representative “for a lot of people”
Merkel herself took the opportunity of the ceremony to say thank you – she addressed a few personal words to many of her invited guests. For example, to her former head of the Chancellery, Helge Braun, who did a “bludgeoning job”. Or Klinsmann, who is a bit out of line in her group of guests, “because I’m not particularly athletic,” said Merkel. But the former national coach showed “what can be achieved,” said the ex-Chancellor, also referring to the World Cup victory, the “summer fairy tale” of 2006.
Above all, her guests stand for the fact that “a lot of people belong when you’ve been chancellor for 16 years”. This job is often characterized by “a tunnel view of daily political events,” said Merkel. But during her time as chancellor she “had many good experiences”. And even if politics is often referred to as a “snake pit”, there is always the other side of politics. And that’s why she “always enjoyed it”.