As some readers know, I have been subscribing to TIME magazine ever since my college days. I am now in the embarrassing situation of having thirty years plus worth of past editions, significantly contributing to my already extensive collection of learned paper material that somehow needs to find a good home (the thought of adding to recyclable rubbish doesn’t bear thinking). My further embarrassment is I haven’t read these all. In the case of TIME, despite every good intention, several editions remain unread.
But I read it when I can, like today regarding the latest edition, in which TIME announced and profiled its “Person of the Year”, as it has done every year since it begun. As I understand it, while there is a lot of leeway, the winner is the one person it considers as having made the greatest influence, for better or worse, on the world and the news, in the year preceding the announcement. While not always agreeing with its choices and clearly those chosen are not always among the good and the great (after all, runner up this year was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of ISIS, and third choice was US Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump), I invariably find these interesting and what it writes about them very informative.
TIME’s choice this year is Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) who it calls “Chancellor of the Free World”. While I am no expert in German politics nor have especially followed Frau Merkel, I know enough about her, and the things she has been involved in and contributed to, to agree with TIME that she is a worthy winner. Reading through the write-up (some of it I was aware off but a lot I wasn’t) I was intrigued. After all, charismatic is hardly a term that comes to mind when considering this lady. She seems to have best operated, until fate bestowed on her the role of Germans leader and arguably the most important figure in the European Union and indeed as TIME intimates – the “Free World”, quietly behind the scenes, showing a remarkable attention to meticulous detail, grit and determination and a surprising ability as a political survivor.
When considering the remarkable story of German growth from a devastating World War Two defeat, including the reunification of East and West following the demise of Communism, one cannot do so without reference to its remarkable leaders, the latest of which is Angela Merkel and has been for the past ten years. Not only has she demonstrated the desire to distant herself and Germany from its dark history prior to the end of World War Two, it should be also noted that she herself has lived most of her life in the East and will have understood all too well another chapter of Germany’s dark history – life under Communism. I suspect both these episodes have shaped Merkel’s thinking in her becoming the leader she has.While not relevant in the big scheme of things, her early life as a chemist specialising in quantum theory is something I too was once into.
I should preface my further comments by reminding readers that I am a Euroskeptic, in a way I suspect Merkel is decidedly not. One of her big coming to prominence is the lead she took in the Eurozone crisis. I think for her, allowing the European debt crisis to go unresolved would have lead to the break up of the European Union, which decisive and robust action was needed to prevent. Her tough stance against profligate member spending, insisting on stringent conditions for any bail out, most notably toward Greece, did not go unnoticed. Neither has the way she has stood up, in a way others better placed have not, to Russian President Putin in his aspirations toward Russian expansion against weaker neighbours.
But it is her lead in taking in destitute sanctuary seekers from the various Middle East conflicts, notably Syria, which has most captured my attention and that of TIME magazine. Given her hard line, right wing credentials, her part in allowing in a million such persons, would normally not seem to match up. But her response has been decisive and may yet be a deciding factor in tackling the refugee crisis, in which almost every other advanced western nation, including the UK, has been dragging its feet. From what I can make out, her motivation is not one of a multi-culturalist (she fully expects these folk to integrate and learn German) but rather as one mindful of her / Germany’s past meant decisive action was needed.
While a debatable subject, I can’t think of any politician in the UK, post Churchill (not even Margaret Thatcher with who Angela Merkel is often likened) that has so much influenced their country, and this despite the odds of unpopularity often appearing to be stacked against her. Like Thatcher, Merkel is tough and determined but unlike Thatcher she understands all too well the importance of getting consensus. I have little doubt that TIME magazine has reached the right decision, and history will bear this out.