German chancellor Angela Merkel has been named TIME “Person of the Year”, with the magazine hailing her leadership for navigating debt and asylum seeker crises that threatened to tear the European Union apart.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State extremist group, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, America’s Black Lives Matter activists campaigning against inequality and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani were named by Time as runners up.
“For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is TIME Person of the Year,” wrote editor Nancy Gibbs.
Time described her as de facto leader of the European Union who this year steered the union through two existential crises — Greek bankruptcy and the asylum seeker crisis.
Throughout the eurozone crisis, when a battered continent looked to Berlin, Ms Merkel preached fiscal discipline and kept a tight grip on the nation’s purse strings, soothing the angst of a thrifty populace.
However, it was this summer that the usually cautious leader took the biggest gamble in her decade in power by throwing open Germany’s doors to asylum seekers — owning an issue set to define her legacy.
On Wednesday, Ms Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert, warmly welcomed the accolade, announced by Time on American breakfast television.
“I am sure that the chancellor will see it as an encouragement to press on with her political work for the good of Germany as well as Europe,” he said.
She is only the fourth woman to be named Time person of the year, following Wallis Simpson, the American divorcee for whom Britain’s King Edward VIII abdicated, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Corazon Aquino, the first woman president of the Philippines.
Ms Merkel, 61, is today’s most powerful woman and leader of Europe’s biggest economy.
The Lutheran pastor’s daughter, who grew up behind the Iron Curtain, was first elected chancellor in 2005.
She was praised by asylum seekers as “Mama Merkel” and derided by others as the eurozone’s “austerity priestess”. But her stunning ascent from communist East Germany defies political convention.
“The prospect of Greek bankruptcy threatened the very existence of the euro zone. The migrant and refugee crisis challenged the principle of open borders. And finally, the carnage in Paris revived the reflex to slam doors, build walls and trust no one,” Ms Gibbs wrote on Wednesday.
“Each time Merkel stepped in. Germany would bail Greece out, on her strict terms. It would welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it.
“And it would deploy troops abroad in the fight against ISIS … You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow.”
Air of ordinariness makes Merkel popular in Germany
Seemingly indifferent to the trappings of power and lacking vanity, Ms Merkel lives in a Berlin flat with her rarely seen, scientist husband Joachim Sauer.
She shops in a neighbourhood supermarket and spends holidays hiking in the Alps.
Her oratory is often monotonous and she is awkward in front of the cameras, but it is this air of ordinariness that has made Ms Merkel a hit with German voters, who value no-nonsense pragmatism and competence.
A star student at school, she excelled in Russian, which she has put to use in defusing the Ukraine conflict with president Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB officer in East Germany when the Wall fell in 1989.
Mr Trump was unimpressed about being passed over for the German chancellor.
“I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favourite They picked person who is ruining Germany,” he wrote on Twitter.