TIME magazine on Wednesday named German Chancellor Angela Merkel as its 2015 “Person of the Year” for her role in effectively managing Europe’s debt and refugee crises.
Ms. Merkel, an east German physicist and the first woman to lead Germany, became the first German since former Chancellor Willy Brandt to grace the cover of the U.S. magazine.
TIME editor Nancy Gibbs said Ms. Merkel won the award because she has been an “indispensable player” in a series of crises that have engulfed Europe over the past few years.
While Ms. Merkel earned plaudits and criticism for her tough negotiations to keep Greece in the 19-nation euro common currency, the judges were moved by her politically risky decision to open Germany’s doors this year to refugees from war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Ms. Merkel’s directive to take in the refugees has cost her politically in Germany, feeding the rise of right-wing parties and straining her own ruling political coalition, especially among conservatives in her own Christian Democratic Union party.
So far, Germany has taken in about 1 million refugees, the equivalent after adjusting for population size of about 4 million refugees entering the United States in a matter of months.
“For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is TIME’s Person of the Year,” Ms. Gibbs said.
The magazine prize is awarded to people who have greatly affected global policy and events. Others on TIME’s short list this year were Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the terrorist leader of Islamic State, and U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has divided America with his xenophobic proposals.
Mr. Trump has called Ms. Merkel “insane” and the refugees “one of the great Trojan horses,” according to TIME.
Past winners have included Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, U.S. President Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012, and Pope Francis in 2013. Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran was given the award in 1979 and Adolf Hitler was also awarded the title in 1938.
Cold War Chancellor Willy Brandt won the award in 1970, and Ms. Merkel is only the fourth woman to be named, individually. The last was Corazon Aquino, the first woman president of the Philippines, who was named 29 years ago.
Ms. Merkel had been tipped by some to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year, but missed out to a group of peace activists from Tunisia.
Andrea Römmele, a professor at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, said the choice of Ms. Merkel was justified. “I think it is a combination of her leadership role in Europe and ability to manage an incredible abundance and complexity of tasks that has brought her this title,” she told Handelsblatt Global Edition.”
Ms. Merkel, however, wasn’t at the top of everyone’s list. The U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders was voted the 2015 person of the year in a separate poll of TIME readers.
But editors, not readers, select the official winner of the magazine’s annual award, which began in 1927 and went to Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly a plane solo across the Atlantic.
The year 2015 not only marked Ms. Merkel’s tenth year in power over the world’s fourth-largest economy, but also has seen the leader of Europe’s largest economy intervene to keep the European Union intact against currency and nationalist threats.
Not once but three times over the course of the year did she emerge as an indispensable player.
Not once but three times this year Ms. Merkel played a key role in global events: She led the West’s response to Russian President Vladmir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and illegal annexation of the Crimea. She averted a Greek bankruptcy that threatened the euro zone, winning concessions from Greece in exchange for a third, multi-billion-euro bailout, most of which was paid by German taxpayers.
But it was her decision to throw open Germany’s doors to more than 1 million asylum seekers that likely swayed TIME editors.
“She is the longest serving head of government in Europe and has managed the euro crisis,” Ms. Römmele said. “She is committed to holding Europe together, has been the complex interface to Putin and has a clear position on the refugee crisis.”
Ms. Merkel has indeed stepped in, but she has also been stepped on for her open-door, “refugees welcome” policy. Her refusal to close Germany’s doors and accept limits on asylum seekers has fueled a fiery debate among members of her conservative party, the Christian Democratic Union, as well as among conservative leaders across Europe. Many other European countries, especially in Eastern Europe, have said they will not accept their own quota of refugees.
Horst Seehofer, the state premier of Bavaria, openly criticized her last month for refusing to put a cap on the number of refugees entering the country. The move by a close ally – Mr. Seehofer is also head of the Christian Social Union, the smaller sister party in Ms. Merkel’s conservative coalition – was unprecedented.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who now chairs E.U. summits, have also sharply criticized the German chancellor, using the most explosive comments to rally conservative allies behind a tougher response to Europe’s refugee crisis.
Last month, Mr. Orbán told the party congress of the European People’s Party, the grouping of European center-right parties, that “human dignity and security are basic rights, but neither the German nor the Hungarian way of life is a basic right of all people on the Earth.”
Mr. Tusk’s language was no less blunt: “We can no longer allow solidarity to be equivalent to naivety, openness to be equivalent to helplessness, freedom to be equivalent to chaos. And by that, I am of course referring to the situation on our borders.”
As the refugee crisis has esclated, Ms. Merkel, Germany’s most popular ever chancellor, referred to by many as “Mutti” or mother, has seen her approval ratings plumment by more than 20 points, but has refused to drop her mantra about coping with the refugees, “We’ll manage it.”
More recently, Ms. Merkel has promised support for France in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist bombings, pledging 1,200 support troops, Tornado reconnaissance jets and tanker refuelling aircraft to joint the fight against the Islamic State in Syria.
John Blau is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition, covering politics, technology and sports. Christopher Cermak and Gilbert Kreijger of Handelsblatt Global Edition also contributed to this story. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org