Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised former Chancellor Angela Merkel as an “unparalleled politician” who successfully steered Germany through many crises. “You have helped our country to economic success under unprecedented challenges,” he said on Monday evening when honoring the long-standing CDU chairmen with the highest possible level of the Federal Cross of Merit. Merkel thanked her invited companions who had helped her in 16 years as Chancellor Survive “snake pit politics”.

Steinmeier emphasized that he was pleased to honor Merkel with this “Order of Exception”. “To be honored, Madam Chancellor, for your extraordinarily long term of office and for your extraordinary political life, during which you used the experience of the dictatorship so convincingly to strengthen democracy.” Merkel did not respond to Steinmeier’s appreciation. She recalled that when she was chancellor, the following had already applied: “The words of the Federal President speak for themselves.” That’s the way it is today.

Steinmeier awarded Merkel the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in a special version. Before her, only the former Chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl (both CDU) received this medal. Merkel was Chancellor from 2005 to 2021. Above that there is only the special level of the Grand Cross, which every Federal President automatically receives when taking office. Otherwise, it is only awarded to foreign heads of state.

Merkel has served Germany for 16 years with ambition, wisdom and passion, said Steinmeier. “You have worked for 16 long years for freedom and democracy, for our country and the well-being of its people. Tirelessly and sometimes to the limits of your physical strength.” At the same time, she was repelled by any vanity, any fuss about her own person.

During her tenure, crises and exceptional situations such as the banking and euro crises or the corona pandemic followed one another and sometimes overlapped. There had been arguments about how to get out of the crises. “But not many countries have survived this phase as well as the Federal Republic.” Germany looks back on 16 years of almost uninterrupted economic growth, for most Germans the scourge of unemployment has lost its terror.

Steinmeier also addressed the often criticized policy towards Russia, for which he shared responsibility as Merkel’s foreign minister for many years. It remains true that in 2014, at Kiev’s request, Germany threw its weight behind a ceasefire agreement and negotiations to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity. But: The epochal break caused by Russia’s brutal war of aggression on the country “requires new thinking from all of us, forces us to review positions”.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) also attended the award ceremony, for which Merkel thanked him in particular. This may also show “that we have always tried to work well together, even when there were differences of opinion”. The CDU politician had invited around 20 guests. In addition to their families, companions such as the former heads of the Chancellery Thomas de Maizière, Ronald Pofalla, Peter Altmaier and Helge Braun (all CDU) were on the guest list, but nobody from the current CDU leadership or from the CSU and FDP.

The CDU chairman Friedrich Merz responded to inquiries with the brief comment that the award and the guest list were the “sovereign decision” of Steinmeier and Merkel. Secretary General Mario Czaja pointed to Merkel’s merits. “We are delighted that she is receiving this special honor.”

Left Chairwoman Janine Wissler said she “didn’t want to deny that Angela Merkel also has merits, of course.” Nevertheless, her reign should be critically questioned. She has delayed the energy transition, child poverty and social inequality have increased. FDP General Secretary Bijan Djir-Sarai told the editorial network Germany that at the end of Merkel’s term in office, the country was “not in a good condition”.

The Green Party leader, Ricarda Lang, congratulated the former chancellor. “I think Angela Merkel has shaped this country in her 16 years in office like hardly anyone else.” One does not have to agree with all of their political activities in order to recognize their great merits. SPD leader Lars Klingbeil said on the sidelines of the Hanover Fair: “She was at the head of the country for 16 years and also led the country in difficult times.” In his eyes, Merkel did a lot right, especially in times of crisis.