On Friday, European Union leaders honored German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the second day of a summit to be held in Brussels. It is the 107th and last summit she will attend before her withdrawal from political life at the end of a 16-year reign.
In the Belgian capital, Brussels, where the bodies of the European Union are located, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, announced that a summit of the 27 countries “without Angela is like Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” adding, “I hope you will not resent this celebration on the occasion of your last summit.”
“Your farewell to the European arena touches us politically and overwhelms us with emotion,” the former Belgian prime minister added, praising the “wisdom” of the chancellor, who will be missed by the Europeans, “especially in sensitive periods.”
Heads of state and government applauded for Merkel in support of Charles Michel’s speech.
European leaders gifted Merkel a work of young French-Dutch designer Maxime Duterte in the form of the European Council building that hosts summit meetings.
And the new Austrian chancellor, Alexander Schallenberg, said that Merkel’s departure “will leave a big void because she is a person who has been in office for a long time and has had a major impact on the development of the European Union.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexandre de Croo said that Merkel “has really imprinted Europe for 16 years, and all 27 of us helped us make the right decisions with a lot of humanity at times that were difficult.”
He stressed that she “was a peacemaker within the European Union. She was shapeless, a great European.”
In turn, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda praised “a great politician who was a key stabilizing factor in extremely complex circumstances,” expressing his “huge respect” for her.
“She was a compromise-maker to the point that when things didn’t progress, we still had Angela after all…she always found something that united us and allowed us to go further,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who has dealt with Merkel for eight years.
“I will miss her, Europe will miss her,” he concluded.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who was once Merkel’s defense minister, recently emphasized how critical the spirit of analysis in Merkel, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, was to unwind the European negotiations when they were sometimes endlessly stuck.
In recent months, European leaders have doubled their praises and thanks to the chancellor, who has ruled Germany since 2005, almost equal to that of reunification chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998).
Merkel, who leads the continent’s number one economic power, has been widely praised for her response to the 2015 refugee crisis and for eventually joining a debt-sharing scheme among the 27 nations.
The conservative chancellor demonstrated a knack for pragmatic management that allowed her to reach the compromises necessary to preserve the union’s unity.
A new chancellor is expected to take up his duties in Germany before Christmas. On Thursday, the Social Democrats, environmentalists and liberals revealed the timetable for their negotiations to install Olaf Scholz as chancellor in early December.
The withdrawal of Merkel, 67, from politics, raises fears of a vacuum in the European Union at a time when it faces decisive plans for its continuity, including rebuilding the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.