The German chancellor struck an encouraging tone in what is likely to be one of her last New Year’s addresses. Merkel addressed the challenges of the climate crisis, digitalization and migration.
The climate crisis, the digitalization of the labour market, and European solidarity on migration formed the main themes of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s traditional New Year’s address, broadcast on Tuesday evening.
But the scale of these challenges was no reason to be discouraged, the chancellor insisted, in a speech that strived for an optimistic tone to begin both the New Year and the new decade.
“I believe we have good reasons to feel confident that the 2020s, the decade that will begin in a few hours, can be good years,” she began, before ending with a resolution: “Let’s surprise ourselves again with what we can do. Changes for the better are possible if we embrace the new with openness and resolve.”
The 65-year-old chancellor added that while she would not live long enough to witness all of its consequences, global warming was real, man-made, and dangerous. “So we must do all that is humanly possible to combat this challenge to humanity,” she said. “There is still time.”
“It’s our children and grandchildren who will have to live with the consequences of what we do now, or fail to do,” she added. “That’s why I’m dedicating all my strength to making sure Germany does its part — ecologically, economically, socially — to come to grips with climate change.”
Merkel argued that her government’s climate protection legislation, finally passed by parliament in amended form just before Christmas, would provide the framework for Germany’s contribution to tackling the climate crisis. Nevertheless, many environmental groups have said the bill is desperately inadequate, and Merkel’s center-left coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), have signaled an intention to renegotiate some of the measures. Meanwhile, the conservative wing of her own party has also criticized the measures.
Merkel herself defended the “climate package,” characteristically seeking a middle ground amid the criticism: “I know very well that some people fear that the measures contained in it are more than they can handle, while others find them to be far too little,” she said.
‘We need new responses’
The changes to the labour market were also addressed in the brief but wide-ranging speech, in which Merkel said the ever-expanding power of digitized, automated labour meant that society needed “new responses.”
“We want everyone to have access to the education that they need for this transformation. We want them to have a good and secure job in the future — and a reliable pension in old age,” she said.
Merkel said Germans would need “courage, now more than ever” to face the challenges of the coming decade, but added that the values set out in the country’s constitution and the “principles of the social market economy” offered guidance.
“They will remain our compass in the new decade,” she said, before alluding to the first article of Germany’s Basic Law by arguing that human dignity should “set the limits” for any new measures.
Strong Europe = strong Germany
On Europe, the chancellor reiterated a line that has become familiar throughout her chancellorship, now the second-longest in the country’s post-war history: that Germany needs a strong Europe to thrive.
The reference led Merkel to address the ongoing plight of refugees, and migration to Europe from Africa, which is likely to continue to increase. She argued once again that the answer lay in helping to build a more stable Africa.
“Cooperation with Africa is also in our own interest,” she said. “Migration and refugee crises will only diminish when people have the opportunity to have a peaceful and secure life. Only if we find political solutions to end wars will there be lasting security.”
Amid the usual thanks for all public servants, Merkel also offered an extra word of gratitude for local politicians, who have faced increased discrimination and abuse in the past year. A member of her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Walter Lübcke, who served as a regional elected official in the city of Kassel, was murdered in June by a far-right extremist.
This New Year’s address from Merkel is likely to be her last but one — and may even be her last. The next election has been scheduled for 2021, but the strife in her coalition with the Social Democrats, and their election of new leaders in December, has made an election in 2020 more likely.