One thing to watch for as Chancellor Angela Merkel makes her various farewells is her famous eye roll. It is the tic that, on occasion, discloses the impatience and exasperation and intelligence that lurks behind her lugubrious visage. It is brilliantly lampooned — immortalized, even — by comedienne Tracey Ullman in a sketch in which, at the mention of Donald Trump, she rolls her eyes so forcefully that she flips over backwards.
We hoped that Frau Merkel’s eye roll might make an appearance in, say, her press conference yesterday with President Biden. We were disappointed. She stood there lugubriously without the eye roll as Mr. Biden shrugged off the fact that Germany had shrugged off America’s objections to Berlin going ahead with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Russia. “Good friends can disagree,” Mr. Biden burbled.
We met Ms. Merkel only once, in 2003, at a small breakfast in Berlin. It was off-the-record, but we don’t think it would be inappropriate to say that she exuded a kind of intelligence that we greatly admire. She is — like the founding president of Israel, Chaim Weizmann — a chemist by training; plus, she grew up in communist East Germany. So she understands the way the world works in both a political and physical way.
At the time we felt that it would be easy to underestimate her. She acceded to the chancellorship in 2005 in an election in which neither her Christian Democrats nor the incumbent Social Democrats won a majority and both claimed victory. Neither was successful in finding a coalition with the small parties. In a move that astonished us, the two major parties agreed to make a government with Frau Merkel as chancellor.
In that government, the outgoing leftists initially held important ministries — including foreign affairs and finance. It would be like, say, President Trump giving major cabinet posts to Hillary Clinton’s camarilla. We figured Frau Merkel wouldn’t last long. In the event, she’s now in her fourth government and will step down later this year as the second-longest serving chancellor in the history of the Federal Republic.
Yet, we found her years in office to be disappointing. Her economic adviser during the campaign was famously for a flat tax. It stirred in us the idea that President Bush could make Steve Forbes, a tribune of the flat tax, his ambassador in Berlin. Frau Merkel, though, shrank from making so radical a stand as the flat tax, and the potential to really change and excite Europe seemed to wane even before she took office.
President George W. Bush clearly has great affection and regard for her, and talked about it — including the shoulder massage — in an interview the other day at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. We thought, though, that Frau Merkel made a mistake in taking so much offense, as she did, at President Trump. He was right on almost every critique he made of Germany and the Europeans, and she bears a portion of the blame for the failure to find a partnership.
The biggest thing that happened on Ms. Merkel’s watch is the departure from the European Union of Britain — a vote of no-confidence in European-style dirigisme by the Mother of Parliaments. We don’t gainsay any of Germany’s contributions to our common causes (it sent troops to Afghanistan after we were attacked from there). And who would have thought, a friend asks us, that the U.S. would, under Mr. Biden, overtake Germany on the left? We can’t help imagining that if from Mar-a-Lago President Trump has been watching her various farewell appearances, he has now and again rolled his own eyes.