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Angela Merkel receives Germany's highest Order of Merit

April 17, 2023

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel has been honored with the prestigious award for her achievements in office, despite growing criticism of her decisions on Russia and her energy policy.

Merkel arrives to the Bellevue presidential palace in Berlin
Merkel is the third German chancellor to receive the honorImage: John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel received Germany's highest Order of Merit on Monday.

The Grand Cross award was handed to her by President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

The award has only been given twice before, to former chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl. All three former leaders belong to the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The Order of Merit entails no financial reward.

Merkel led Germany from 2005 to 2021, totaling four terms in office. She did not seek a fifth term.

She was the first woman to take the post of chancellor and the first German head of government to have grown up in socialist East Germany.

Steinmeier praises Merkel for EU unity

Germany's president thanked Merkel for "keeping [Europe] together" during her time in office.

"At a time when our continent threatened to break apart, you held together center and periphery, north and south, east and west," he said, addressing the former chancellor.

Steinmeier said that Merkel had "contributed to the continued existence of the Eurozone" and helped ensure that no country was forced to drop the euro as its currency despite opposition from parts of the German public and even within her own party.

He also praised her for "the art of negotiation and the ability to compromise."

Steinmeier said that Merkel was capable of recognizing her mistakes. He cited the 2008 financial crash, after which the former chancellor reconsidered the role of the government in stymying the crisis, as well as her decision to undo COVID-19 lockdown measures during Easter of 2021.

"Some may have seen this as a weakness," he said. "But exactly the opposite is true," he said, adding that to recognize one's own mistakes is a "strength."

Steinmeier, who is a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz's Social Democrats (SPD), served as Foreign Minister under Merkel between 2013 and 2017, and as vice chancellor between 2007 and 2009.

Merkel legacy faces criticism over energy, Russia

The Merkel government's foreign and energy policy has drawn increasing criticism since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

One of the criticized measures is her government's decision to buy large quantities of gas from Russia. The former chancellor has said that the decision made sense "from the perspective of that time."

In 2015, Germany helped negotiated a cease-fire in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, which was contested by militant pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow. Merkel has argued that this deal bought Ukraine time to arm itself and modernize its military.

Also on the energy front, Merkel has been criticized for leading the country's nuclear phase-out in 2011. CDU vice-president Carsten Linnemann told the NTV news channel that the nuclear exit was a "mistake" because it was carried out "without establishing how we were going to supply ourselves with energy in a reasonably self-sufficient way."

However, Linnemann said that Merkel had "great merits, particularly at an international level."

sdi/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)