The Germans go to the polls on Sunday to choose a new government. The picture is complicated by Germany’s multiparty system and indirect electoral process. Essentially, voters have the choice between a centrist coalition built around the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) or a left-wing coalition with the Social Democratic Party at its center.

Fluctuating polls leave the result in doubt. One way or another, however, Chancellor Angela will be leaving the stage soon. After 16 years in power and nearly 20 at the head of the CDU, Merkel has defined German policy for the 21st century. His retirement is the end of an era.

We should not mourn this departure. Despite her reassuring demeanor, Merkel was a destabilizing figure. Once celebrated as the surrogate for the “leader of the free world,” her combination of great moralism and parochial interest undermined the liberal ideals she professed.

Merkel’s first big mistake came early in her tenure. In 2007, the Icelandic banking system collapsed under the enormous debt burden. Over the next year, the problem spread to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, creating the degrading but amusing acronym PIIGS. By leveraging their association with the stronger economies of Northern Europe, particularly Germany, the PIIGS were able to borrow more money than would otherwise have been possible. But the use of the euro made it impossible to devalue their currencies in the face of loans that they could not repay.

In the end, Germany and other EU members bailed out the PIIGs. But the compromise Merkel helped negotiate conditioned debt relief on austerity policies that led to rising unemployment, cuts to public services and political upheaval, including a dramatic renaissance of political parties. extreme right and extreme left.

The problem was not just the budget cuts. This is because they were imposed with barely any semblance of legitimation by the states on which they were imposed. The EU’s greatest weakness is its “democratic deficit” – the feeling that big policies are imposed by an irresponsible transnational elite. Merkel’s adherence to economic orthodoxy helped dispel lingering doubts about the accuracy of this impression.

Merkel’s conduct in the EU debt crisis was popular with the domestic public, where it was seen as protecting the German economy from debauched neighbors. His next big mistake was more controversial.

In August 2015, Merkel rejected Germans’ historic skepticism of mass immigration and announced that Germany would accept large numbers of asylum seekers who were already flocking to Europe. These migrants ostensibly fled the Syrian civil war, but in fact came from all over the Middle East and North Africa. “Wir schaffen das” – we can do it, Merkel said.

Over the next four years, Germany accepted an unprecedented 1.7 million asylum seekers. It wasn’t the total disaster some critics predicted, but the results were mixed. Despite some success in integration, asylum seekers and other migrants have been prosecuted for high-profile crimes, including high-profile incidents in Cologne and Freiburg. Many of them are still unemployed or on social assistance. According to Politics, refugee-related programs cost Germany more than 300 billion euros each year. They could do it, but at a price.

The reality of Merkel’s politics is also more complicated and realistic than her welcoming rhetoric suggests. Many refugees were already in Germany or on their way when she said the famous phrase. There was no easy way to push them back. Merkel also saw migration as a way to add young workers to the workforce. Like other European countries, Germany is facing a decrease in population with the risk of serious economic consequences.

As political costs rose, Merkel reintroduced border controls, approved stricter enforcement on Europe’s Mediterranean coast, and oversaw a deal where the EU essentially paid Turkey to hold back migrants rather than letting them pass to European destinations. In the past few months alone, Germany has resisted attempts to resettle Afghan refugees in Europe.

Even with these mitigating responses, the damage was done. The period of mass migration between September 2015 and the deal with Turkey in March 2016 galvanized the German right, polished the conservative governments of Hungary and Poland, and generated images that were used in the campaigns for Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. As in the debt crisis, Merkel’s ostensibly principled stance has helped discredit the principles themselves.

That’s not to say Merkel is completely adamant. German-American political theorist Yascha Mounk points out that Merkel has long resisted efforts to sanction Hungary’s ruling party Fidesz, which has remained a member of the EU-wide association of Christian Democratic parties until the beginning of this year. Merkel also maintained cooperative relations with Moscow. Despite US opposition, his government persisted in the Nordstream 2 pipeline project, which will give Russia a powerful influence over Germany’s natural gas supply.

Dependence on Russian gas is only one aspect of the failure of Merkel’s energy policy. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2010, Merkel’s government drew up plans for a Energiewende (energetic transition). In addition to shutting down Germany’s 19 nuclear reactors by 2022, the plan called for the gradual replacement of its coal-fired power plants by 2038.

The problem was that the simultaneous abandonment of nuclear and coal left few alternatives. In addition to Russian gas, Germany has invested heavily in wind turbines and other alternative fuels which have proven inefficient and unpopular. Again, the refusal to face compromise or the possibility of unintended consequences has led to counterproductive results.

Even Merkel’s own party suffered from its peculiar moralism. Although she campaigned for CDU leader Armin Laschet, Merkel did not participate in the April leadership elections. His refusal to support the irrelevant Laschet or to clearly support his more charismatic rival Markus Söder has left the party demoralized and divided. Recent polls show that the CDU receives only around 20% of the vote, its worst performance since the start of the modern German republic after World War II.

Honesty forces me to recognize that my assessment is not widely shared in Germany. Despite the setbacks linked to the pandemic, Merkel remains the most popular political figure in the country. Famous around the world for her grand declarations, Merkel was a wise steward of her political position in her country. Above all, it means cultivating support from the business community, which backs Merkel’s engagement with Russia and China, another challenger to Western liberalism with which Germany has close economic ties.

Some Germans will therefore cry when Mutti leaves the area. The rest of us, however, have no reason to regret. Merkel promised to defend liberalism, democracy and European cooperation. She left them weaker in almost everything she touched.