European leaders paid tribute to German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday at a summit in Brussels that is expected to be her last after 16 years in power.
The summit is Merkel’s 107th as German Chancellor. Merkel is currently helming her country in a caretaker capacity as coalition talks are currently underway following federal parliamentary elections last month.
EU Council President Charles Michel marked the occasion with a slick video released on social media with images of Merkel’s attendance at past summits, highlighting her longevity at the head of an EU as she can be seen with four successive French presidents.
In a speech, he said that EU-27 summits “without Angela is like Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower”.
“Your farewell to the European stage touches us politically and fills us with emotion,” he added, praising the “wisdom” of the chancellor who, he said, will be missed by Europeans “especially in delicate times”.
The speech was greeted by a standing ovation from the heads of state and government who had been meeting since Thursday. A gift, a transparent work of art by the young French-Dutch designer Maxim Duterre, evoking the Council building which hosts the summits, was presented to her, as it was to her Swedish counterpart Stefan Löfven, who is also leaving.
Austria’s new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said her departure “will leave a great void”, underlining her “great influence on the evolution of the European Union”.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said that Merkel “is someone who for 16 years has really left her mark on Europe, and helped us to take the right decisions with a lot of humanity at times that were difficult.
“She was a peacemaker in the EU. She was undoubtedly a great European,” he insisted.
His counterpart from Luxembourg, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who worked with her for eight years, concurred. “She was such a compromise machine that when things didn’t go well, we still had Angela (…) She always found something to unite us and allow us to go further.”
“I will miss her. Europe will miss her,” he said.
A tribute also came from across the Atlantic with former US President Barack Obama thanking her “on behalf of the American people” for her “friendship and leadership”.
“Your beloved German people and the entire world owe you a debt of gratitude for your vision over so many years,” he added.
As head of the continent’s largest economy, Angela Merkel was widely criticised for Berlin’s attitude during the eurozone crisis following the global financial meltdown of 2008-2009, but was later widely praised for her response to the 2015 migration crisis and for ultimately rallying behind a common EU-27 debt.
Germany is expected to have a new chancellor before Christmas. The Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals unveiled on Thursday the timetable for their negotiations to install Olaf Scholz (SPD) at the helm of the country in early December.
The withdrawal of Angela Merkel, 67, has sparked fears of a vacuum in the EU, which is facing decisive challenges to its survival: post-Covid economic reconstruction, climate change, and asserting its geopolitical role vis-à-vis the United States and China.