European leaders gave Germany’s outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel a big farewell party at Friday’s EU summit, with former US president Barack Obama making a cameo video appearance.
Attending her 107th summit, Mrs Merkel was feted by friends and foes alike in an informal ceremony behind closed doors, where she was called everything from a “compromise machine” to the EU’s Eiffel Tower.
Mrs Merkel – who might still be chancellor when European Union leaders meet again – has been the embodiment of the drive for a stronger united Europe since she attended her first meeting of EU leaders 16 years ago, at a time when Jacques Chirac was French president and Tony Blair was the British prime minister.
“You are a monument,” said EU Council president Charles Michel, adding that a summit meeting without her would be like “Rome without the Vatican or Paris without the Eiffel Tower”.
While Mr Obama said: “So many people, girls and boys, men and women, have had a role model who they could look up to through challenging times. I know because I am one of them.”
He added: “Danke schon.”
Mrs Merkel always sought to keep the EU as tightly knit as possible but also defended national interests with equal fervour, especially during the financial crisis which saw her clash often with struggling Greece.
But ultimately she embodied what the EU summit itself all too often was. “Frau Merkel was a compromise machine,” Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel said.
“Your spirit and experience will remain with us,” said Mr Michel. “You are not leaving us.”
And Mr Michel could yet be right. Mrs Merkel did not put herself up for re-election in last month’s German polls and her CDU/CSU Christian Democrats fared so badly that it is likely they will end up in opposition.
The left-leaning SPD, Greens and free-market FDP announced that they want to get their coalition government in place in the week starting December 6.
Until then, Mrs Merkel remains chancellor in a caretaker capacity, and only a few days’ delay could see her return to Brussels for the mid-December summit.