Canon Ian Ellis: The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a Christian who has not been afraid to ‘do God’ in public life

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel stepping down from office following the upcoming September 26 general election in Germany there have been many tributes paid to her strong leadership.

By Ian Ellis
Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 1:31 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 2:04 pm
Angela Merkel in 2016 signs the condolence book at the Memorial Church in Berlin for the truck terror attack in the city . The German chancellor has said: ‘I believe in God and religion is my constant companion. We Christians should not fear standing up for our beliefs’ (AP)
Angela Merkel in 2016 signs the condolence book at the Memorial Church in Berlin for the truck terror attack in the city . The German chancellor has said: ‘I believe in God and religion is my constant companion. We Christians should not fear standing up for our beliefs’ (AP)

Earlier this summer, on Mrs Merkel’s 22nd visit to the UK as Chancellor, she was received by the Queen at Windsor Castle.

During that visit, prime minister Boris Johnson said: “The UK and Germany have a steadfast friendship and a shared outlook on many issues. Our scientists, innovators and industrialists work together every day to make the world a better place. Over the 16 years of Chancellor Merkel’s tenure the UK-Germany relationship has been re-energised and reinvigorated for a new era.”

Asked about Mrs Merkel’s openness to the settlement of large numbers of refugees in Germany particularly in 2015-16, Christine Lagarde, former head of the International Monetary Fund and now president of the European Central Bank, commended her for taking “the moral high ground”.

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Canon Ian Ellis writes: "I heard Mrs Merkel speaking at a national German church festival in Dortmund in 2019 when I had the privilege of being the official guest from the Church of Ireland"

Christine Lagarde has also hailed the German Chancellor as a “role model” for younger women.

Michael Collins, Director General of the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs and the Republic of Ireland’s ambassador to Germany from 2013 to 2019, has commented: “Nobody remains in office for 16 years, not least in a country as big and as powerful as Germany without certain qualities.”

He described Mrs Merkel as leading with “a steady, cool hand” and as “a very astute politician”.

Chancellor Merkel, over her long tenure of office, has overlapped with no fewer than five UK prime ministers from Tony Blair to Boris Johnson and four US presidents from George W. Bush to Joe Biden.

Within the EU she is of immense standing and authority.

Although born in Hamburg, the family moved to Perleberg in East Germany when she was just three months old, following the appointment of her father, a Lutheran pastor, to a parish there.

Indeed, when Theresa May was prime minister, arguably the two most powerful leaders within the European Union were not only women but also clergy daughters.

In a 2016 article in The Guardian, the newspaper’s former literary editor Stephen Moss commented: “Plenty of children from clerical backgrounds have rebelled against the moral codes with which they grew up — it was after all Nietzsche, the son of a Lutheran minister, who pronounced ‘God is dead’ — but it does seem to produce politicians of a particular stripe: fastidious, unshowy, hard-working, steadfast.”

Certainly, Mrs Merkel has fitted that latter bill.

Also, she not been afraid to “do God” in public life, saying: “I believe in God and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life. We as Christians should above all not be afraid of standing up for our beliefs.”

I heard Mrs Merkel speaking at a national German church festival in Dortmund in 2019 when I had the privilege of being the official guest from the Church of Ireland. She was addressing the theme of ‘Trust as the Basis of International Politics’.

On that occasion, in a remarkable moment of candour, she acknowledged that modern European history would have been very different if, after World War II, the Allies had not trusted the German people.

Also, in a memorable turn of phrase, while recognising the many difficulties of the modern world, she called for action to “improve what is imperfect”.

At that Dortmund meeting it became clear that while trust is not a straightforward concept in political life it nonetheless points to an essential ingredient in relationships, day-to-day as well as in the political sphere.

This holds true in Northern Ireland just as much as anywhere else.

Yet politics is never static. There is always movement and change.

Indeed, Mrs Merkel already having indicated in 2018 that she would stand down after the forthcoming election, her conservative Christian Democratic Union party suffered a considerable slump in two regional elections earlier this year.

The downturn has been attributed at least in part to mistakes made in response to the coronavirus emergency.

Mrs Merkel’s government has faced criticism over continuing restrictions and a slow pace of vaccinations, the influential Politico website commenting: “From a government-sponsored tracing app introduced last year that didn’t work to a failure to quickly provide emergency aid for small firms, the conservatives have repeatedly fallen short.”

The outcome of this month’s German general election is far from certain.

However, in an analysis for the London School of Economics, researchers Minna Alander, Julina Mintel and Dominik Rehbaum have noted that the main manifestos show that “the German party landscape remains characterised by a pro-European consensus”.

They add that while the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has attracted a great deal of attention as the first openly anti-EU party in the German parliament, “the other political parties remain fundamentally positive towards EU integration”, although with some reservations regarding the Eurozone and fiscal policy on the part of the Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union and Free Democratic Party.

The future for Germany includes remaining an EU mainstay, but precisely how that will be nuanced is as yet unclear and is something that, no doubt, Angela Merkel will follow with much interest.

Canon Ian Ellis is a former editor of The Church of Ireland Gazette

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