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Niall Ferguson

How Angela Merkel Turned Back the Clock of German History

The outgoing German chancellor is overrated at home and abroad.

Partying like it’s 1841.

Partying like it’s 1841.

Photographer: Carsten Koall/Getty Images Europe

Angela Merkel has long had her admirers in the Anglophone media. In November 2015 the Economist called her “the indispensable European.” A month later the Financial Times named her its “person of the year.” Time magazine proclaimed her “chancellor of the free world.” When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, the New York Times dubbed Merkel “the liberal West’s Last Defender.”

I confess, I have never quite seen her that way. My one encounter with Angela Merkel was in Spain during an early phase of the Eurozone crisis. It was February 2011 and I happened to be in Madrid, where I was trying to work out just how close to collapse the European banking system was. I was between meetings with officials at the central bank and finance ministry when, walking with a swiftness rarely seen in Madrid’s corridors of power, the German chancellor and her entourage arrived for a meeting with the hapless socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.