BRUSSELS – Angela Merkel is still Germany's Chancellor, and might be still when European Union leaders meet again, yet they gave her a big farewell party at Friday's EU summit. Even Barack Obama made a cameo video appearance.
Attending her 107th summit, Merkel was feted by friend and foe alike in an informal ceremony behind closed doors early Friday, where they called her anything from a “compromise machine” to the EU's Eiffel Tower.
Merkel has been the embodiment of the drive for a stronger united Europe for years since she attended her first meeting of EU leaders 16 years ago, at a time when Jacques Chirac was still the French president and Tony Blair the British prime minister.
“You are a monument,” said EU Council President Charles Michel, adding that a summit meeting without her will be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower.”
Former U.S. president Obama was equally gushing. “So many people, girls and boys, men and women, have had a role model who they could look up to through challenging times,” he said. “I know because I am one of them.”
“Danke schön,” he added.
Merkel, often using the clout of juggernaut Germany to the fullest, always sought to keep the EU as tightly knit as possible but also defended national interests with equal fervor, especially during the financial crisis which saw her clash often with struggling Greece.
In the end, though, she embodied what the EU summit itself all too often is. “Frau Merkel was a compromise machine,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel.
So, many will be sad to see her go. “Your spirit and experience will remain with us,” said Michel. “You are not leaving us.”
Michel could still be right. Merkel did not put herself up for re-election in last month's German polls and her CDU/CSU Christian Democrats fared so badly that they will likely end up in opposition.
The left-leaning SPD, Greens and free-market FDP announced that they want to get their coalition government in place in the week starting Dec. 6.
Until then, Merkel remains chancellor in a caretaker capacity, and only a few days' delay could well see her come back to Brussels for the mid-December summit.