Angela Merkel has big plans for Germany in the new year. In her year-end address, the chancellor focused on the country’s international role, committing to taking on more responsibilities in a difficult political climate.
Merkel spoke about the challenges of climate change, migration, terrorism. She also called on international relations to manage those problems while admitting that traditional alliances are increasingly under threat—likely a reference to the rising tide of international populism, and especially to the disagreements she has had with Donald Trump in the past year.
“Openness, tolerance, and respect, these are values that have made our country strong,” Merkel said, urging her country to protect those values in the international arena as well as at home. “We must stand up for them together, even if it is uncomfortable and exhausting.”
Merkel, who has faced a significant reduction in power as a result of her progressive immigration policies, framed this not as a gesture of altruism, but as a strategy that’s important for Germany, too. ”We must take on more responsibility in our own interests,” she said.
With that, Merkel explicitly made a bid to give Germany more international prominence, and set her country—in the absence of US international leadership—as the leader of the so-called “free world” ahead of its United Nations Security Council chair, starting Jan. 1, 2019.
“Democracy thrives on change,” said Merkel in her speech. Indeed. The UK is now grappling with the consequences of the xenophobic, anti-immigration campaign that led to Brexit, while the US is in the midst of a government shutdown brought about by Trump’s plan to build a border wall between the US and Mexico. The world has changed so much that UK and US, which once appointed themselves leaders of the free world, are confronted by the very country they defeated during World War II in the name of openness, tolerance, and respect.