Angela Merkel is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany on this day in 2005. The first woman to hold the position, Merkel emerged as one of the strongest forces in European politics over the subsequent decade. She has frequently been called the most powerful woman in the world and the de facto leader of the European Union.
Merkel was raised and educated in East Germany. She earned a doctorate in quantum chemistry and worked as a research scientist, only entering politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. After serving as a spokesperson for the caretaker East German government, she was elected to the Bundestag in the first election after unification in 1990. Helmut Kohl, the first chancellor of the reunified state, appointed her to successive cabinet positions and championed her career. When Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union was voted out in 1998, Merkel became the party’s Secretary-General and then its Leader. After a tight election and two weeks of negotiations with the CDU’s coalition partners, Merkel became Chancellor in 2005.
Merkel’s tenure has been characterized by her desire for a strong EU and by the crises it has faced. Governing from the center-right, by European standards, she drew criticism from the left after the 2008 financial crisis due the perception that Germany was imposing severe austerity measures on Greece. In 2015, she made the controversial announcement that Germany would process asylum applications for Syrian refugees who had arrived elsewhere in Europe, including those being forced out of Hungary by far-right prime minister Viktor Orban. Merkel was close with American presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but questioned the United States’ commitment to Europe after meeting with Donald Trump. She is also an outspoken critic of Britain’s decision to leave the EU and of Vladimir Putin.
Though her popularity in Germany has vacillated considerably, Merkel is currently the longest-tenured head of government in Europe. She stepped down as leader of her party in 2018 and has announced that she does not plan to run for re-election as Chancellor in 2021.