EU leaders gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel a standing ovation at her last EU summit on Friday after a 16-year reign that helped the bloc through major ups and downs.
Merkel has attended 107 EU summits which have seen some of the biggest twists and turns in recent European history, including the eurozone debt crisis, an influx of Syrian refugees, Brexit and the establishment of the historic fund of the bloc’s pandemic stimulus.
“You are a monument”, declared the host of the summits, the head of the European Council Charles Michel, in the tribute behind closed doors which was returned to him, according to an official present in the room.
A European summit “without Angela is like Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower,” Michel said.
He handed Merkel a plexiglass cube with a globe described as an “artistic impression” of the Europa building where the EU summits are held.
Merkel, with a characteristic lack of fanfare, thanked reporters for their long nights at the summits, although she warned of the challenges the EU and its German successor still face.
“I am leaving the European Union, as far as my responsibility as Federal Chancellor is concerned, at a time when there is cause for concern,” she said.
“We have overcome many crises but we have a series of unresolved issues,” she said, citing disputes over migration, the bloc economy and the rule of law in EU countries. .
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel called Merkel a “compromise machine” who “has generally found something to unite us” in intra-EU marathon negotiations.
“She will be missed by Europe,” he said.
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called it “undoubtedly a great European” and “a haven of peace, if you will, within the European Union”.
His departure, he said, “will leave a hole.”
Its latest summit, a two-day affair in Brussels, once again relied on its soft power skills to quell a heated feud with Poland over its rejection of the EU legal order – which many thought could be the next existential threat to Union Europe.
On the first day of Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended an October 7 ruling by his country’s Constitutional Court that EU law only applied in specific and limited areas and Polish law prevailed in all others.
Merkel, backed by French President Emmanuel Macron, has spent her considerable political capital pushing for dialogue with Poland, warning of a “cascade” of legal battles if the issue escalates into challenges before the European Court of Justice.
The message has been received by the European Commission and countries like the Netherlands and Belgium who wanted a tougher slap in the face of Poland, which they accuse of undermining democratic standards by removing the judicial independence of national courts.
“Principles of self-interest”
East-West feuds have been a recurring theme of Merkel’s long tenure.
Her role as mediator reflected both Germany’s status as an economic powerhouse of the EU with sway over many countries of the former Soviet bloc, whose union membership rocked the EU. political balance from Paris to Berlin.
He also spoke about the family background of Merkel, who is of German and Polish descent, as well as her tactic of nudging behind the scenes as the warring forces run out, before intervening with a solution to the conflict. compromise.
In a surprise video posted on Twitter by Michel of the EU, former US President Barack Obama hailed Merkel as one of those rare leaders who place “their principles above any narrow definition of self-interest” .
“It’s a testament to your character that you would probably like to work at a European Council meeting more than being the center of attention like this,” he added.
Germany is still forming a government to replace Merkel’s after the September elections which it did not contest and which saw its conservative CDU party get scoured.