After she voluntarily left office, Angela Merkel said last year at her first public appearance as former chancellor, she read that she now “only makes feel-good appointments”: “I say yes,” she confirmed at the time.
Next Monday there will be a very special event in this category – and at the same time an extraordinary honor: Angela Merkel will be honored with the highest award in the Federal Republic for her services to the common good of Germany. She receives the “Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany” from Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “in a special copy”.
Before her, only two other people had this honor – both belonged to the same party: in 1954 it was given to the first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, in office from 1949 to 1963, and in 1998 to Helmut Kohl, who was head of government from 1982 to 1998.
Honor for Merkel not undisputed
Every chancellor receives the Federal Cross of Merit after leaving office. However, Steinmeier’s decision to award Merkel the highest possible copy of the medal officially puts her in line with her “great” predecessors.
This is not without controversy, since Merkel not only polarized people strongly during her term of office with her refugee policy after 2015, but was also sharply criticized for her Russia policy after she left office voluntarily. Spicy: Steinmeier was criticized even after the start of the Ukraine war because, as Merkel’s foreign minister twice, he was one of the architects of Germany’s Russia course.
The Federal President, on the other hand, is likely to honor her for her services as chancellor in overcoming the financial, euro and refugee crisis and the Corona crisis and highlight her services to European unity. Her biography as an East German, who came out of the dictatorship and became the most powerful woman in the world at times, may also have played a role.
Merkel invites companions – not there: CDU leader Merz
The guest list of the event, which begins on Monday at 6 p.m. in Steinmeier’s official residence in Bellevue Palace, is now also arousing interest with a laudatory speech by the Federal President, which also includes words of thanks from Merkel and a subsequent celebratory dinner to which Steinmeier invites the award winner and her guests becomes.
What is striking about this is that, in addition to the incumbent Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), who was her Vice-Chancellor in her second grand coalition, Merkel mainly invited companions from the CDU and SPD – but not from the FDP and CSU, with whom she worked from 2009 to 2013 reigned. Merkel invited neither former party friends from the CSU, such as then-Chairman Horst Seehofer, nor incumbent leaders of her own party, such as CDU leader Friedrich Merz.
Merkel’s guest list
At the request of the editorial network Germany (RND), the Office of the Federal President confirmed a report by “Stern”, according to which the award winners usually invite around 20 guests of honor plus family members and, in consultation with Steinmeier, Merkel has put the following people on her guest list:
- husband Joachim Sauer and his son Daniel,
- Angela Merkel’s siblings Irene and Marcus Kasner,
- Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), who only publicly confirmed his participation this Friday,
- EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU), who was considered Merkel’s confidante and held various ministerial posts in her governments,
- their former heads of the Chancellery Thomas de Maizière, Ronald Pofalla, Peter Altmaier and Helge Braun (all CDU),
- Annette Schavan, also a longtime confidante and minister under Merkel, most recently German ambassador to the Vatican (until 2018),
- the current German ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, who was Merkel’s government spokesman for eleven years from 2010-2021,
- her close confidants and employees in the Federal Chancellery Beate Baumann and Eva Christiansen
- the former GDR civil rights activist and Berlin pastor Rainer Eppelmann, who, as an opposition politician at the time of reunification, convinced her of a career as a professional politician,
- the actor and intellectual Ulrich Matthes, with whom Merkel has been friends since her chancellorship,
- Jürgen Klinsmann, who was national coach in Merkel’s first full year in office (2006) and during the soccer World Cup in Germany and now works as national coach in South Korea,
- the historian Neil MacGregor,
- the chemistry professors Robert Schlögl, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and Helmut Schwarz, his predecessor at the Foundation, and
- Art historian Horst Bredekamp.
Also invited, but not present, are Merkel’s former vice-chancellor, ex-SPD leader Franz Müntefering, who has canceled due to illness, and the long-time leader of the Union parliamentary group, Volker Kauder (CDU), who is unable to attend.
Merkel was Chancellor from 2005 to 2021. Their historical role is disputed. Former Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) recently caused a stir because he did not want to include Merkel in the list of great chancellors such as Adenauer, Brandt and Kohl. “It may be too early to make a final assessment,” he told the “Handelsblatt”.
As expected, the quickest and sharpest criticism came from the AfD, which owes its founding to displeasure with Merkel’s euro rescue plan and its entry into the Bundestag to protesting her refugee policy. “Regardless of whether it was the colossal failure in the refugee crisis, the phase-out of nuclear energy or the so-called rescue of the euro: Merkel ruined Germany and left it in ruins,” protested her federal deputy and right-winger, Stephan Brandner, against the honor. The fact that “the highly controversial Steinmeier” awarded Merkel this medal speaks “against such awards in principle”.
Criticism of Merkel’s Russia policy
In view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, their Russia policy has recently come under criticism. In her first big interview, which Merkel gave to the editorial network Germany (RND) after the live talk mentioned at the beginning, she objected: “I didn’t believe in change through trade, but in connection through trade, with the second-largest nuclear power in the world,” Merkel said, among other things. From the point of view of that time, their course was correct.
According to the Office of the President, the Order of Merit is awarded in eight different levels. It has been awarded in all grades more than 260,000 times since it was introduced by Federal President Theodor Heuss in 1951 – namely “to domestic and foreign citizens for political, economic-social and intellectual achievements” as well as for all special services to the Federal Republic, for example in the social and charitable area.
“It is the only general award of merit in Germany and thus the highest recognition that the Federal Republic of Germany gives for services to the common good,” says the Office of the Federal President. “A financial donation is not associated with the award of the Order of Merit.”
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