The Ministry of Defence was the venue for the farewell of one of the most influential women in recent European history. Angela Merkel, accompanied by 200 guests - a very small number at the request of the outgoing chancellor herself - said farewell to her position as head of the leading country on the European continent. She was accompanied by Annegret Kramp Karrenbauer, one of the women closest to her during her time at the helm of the chancellery, whom she appointed as her successor in a failed attempt to leave her the baton at the helm of Germany.
"Our democracy thrives on the ability to critically examine and correct oneself. It lives on solidarity and trust, but also on trust in facts and the fact that where scientific knowledge is denied, conspiracy theories and agitation spread," Merkel said in her farewell speech. She added that "democracy also lives from the fact that where hatred and violence are used as legitimate means for one's own interests, our tolerance as democrats finds its limit", in a final appeal to fight against those who confront democracy with harassment and aggression.
Angela Merkel's farewell was given by the German army in an emotional ceremony in which three pieces chosen by the chancellor were played: 'Großer Gott, wir loben Dich' (Holy God, we praise your name), 'You forgot the coloured film', and 'It should rain roses on me'. Merkel, moved during what has been the most important act of recognition of the Armed Forces of her country, wanted to say a final farewell to German society with a wish of "joy of the heart" at a time that continues to be very complicated for the whole of Europe due to the irruption of the new variant of COVID-19 that is once again setting off health alarms throughout the world.
Angela Merkel is stepping down as chancellor after 16 years that have left a legacy that is hard to match. The German leader left the Ministry of Defence with the look of a woman who knows she has brought her country to the forefront of international politics. The feeling of a job well done would be paramount for anyone leaving her post after leading a country in the way Merkel has done for more than three decades. However, the chancellor's self-demanding nature reminds her that "the 16 years as chancellor were hectic and often very challenging", and she said they challenged her "politically and personally".
The list of achievements of those 16 years would take up countless pages. There are so many areas in which Germany has grown under the outgoing chancellor that it is difficult to single out just a few, but not for lack of trying. When Merkel came to power, unemployment stood at 13%. Now, with a pandemic, the German leader is leaving office with unemployment at 6.3%, having more than halved the unemployment figure. What's more, most of Germany has full technical employment, with the east of the country suffering the most from unemployment.
The Stability Pact had been breached by Germany with a public deficit exceeding 3 %. One legislature was enough to reverse the situation and achieve a zero deficit to boost the economy to close to a 2% surplus in the coming years. European leadership, together with a boost in life expectancy and growth in GDP per capita, are just some of the many goals that Angela Merkel turned into reality. 40,490 euros now mark the GDP per capita in Germany, almost 6,000 more than when she became Chancellor in 2005, when life expectancy was 79 years, two years less than the 81 that the indicators now reflect.
And so an endless list of achievements that have propelled Germany to regional leadership would go on and on. What is inevitable, even in cases like that of the chancellor who has marked European history, is to have a thorn in the side, something that could always have been done better. For Merkel, it is renewable energies. And not because she has not worked in this area - nothing could be further from the truth. Green energy has increased from 10 to 40 per cent in the last 16 years, but once again, the chancellor's self-imposed demands make her reproach herself for being slower to act than the world would have required.
Next week will mark the official end of Merkel's time at the helm of Germany. Olaf Scholz will take over at the head of a coalition government that is facing perhaps too high a bar for any government that would run after Merkel's departure. The chancellor is leaving politics but not before receiving the Manuel Broseta Convenience Award for the human values she has shown over the past 16 years and her promotion of the European project. This is the finishing touch to a period that is coming to an end with Germany becoming the power that Angela Merkel worked to build.