AP EXPLAINS: The rise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

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Posted: Dec 09, 2015 1:27 PM
AP EXPLAINS: The rise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been named Time magazine's Person of the Year, just a few weeks after she marked 10 years at the helm of Europe's biggest economic power. Merkel, 61, is the European Union's longest-serving head of government and has been a serial winner of Forbes magazine's title of world's most powerful woman. She's the first woman chosen as Person of the Year since 1986 and only the fourth since 1927. Here's a brief look at some key highlights of her career:

MERKEL'S ROUTE TO THE TOP

Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor when she took office in November 2005, and also the first person who grew up in communist East Germany to lead the reunited country. After an early career as a physicist, she entered politics in her mid-30s as communism crumbled. She quickly became a spokeswoman for East Germany's first and only democratically elected leader and, months later, entered then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl's first post-reunification Cabinet. Merkel helped negotiate the Kyoto accord to curb greenhouse gas emissions as environment minister in the 1990s. She became leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union in 2000 and chancellor after narrowly winning a 2005 election.

A REPUTATION FOR DIPLOMATIC PERSISTENCE

Merkel has gained a reputation over the years for diplomatic persistence and helping broker compromises, not least in the unwieldy 28-member European Union. In the crisis over Ukraine, she has stuck doggedly to efforts to keep the leaders of Russia and Ukraine talking in the face of repeated setbacks in implementing a peace accord, while also backing sanctions against Russia. She is fond of a methodical, step-by-step approach to resolving problems.

HELPING SHAPE EUROPE'S RESPONSE TO THE DEBT CRISIS

Merkel has been a dominant figure in shaping Europe's response to the debt crisis that started unfolding in Greece six years ago and flared anew this year. She has insisted that countries carry out painful economic reforms and cut spending in exchange for aid, and was instrumental in getting the International Monetary Fund involved. She has faced criticism abroad for her hard-nosed emphasis on austerity and insistence that there can't be a quick fix, but also has had to fend off critics at home who opposed bailouts for eurozone strugglers.

A WARM WELCOME FOR FLOOD OF REFUGEES

This year's influx of migrants to Europe has proven to be perhaps Merkel's toughest test yet. Germany has been the top destination for people fleeing Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in hopes of safety and a better life. The flow picked up after Merkel decided in early September to let in people stuck in Hungary. Germany has struggled to house and process the newcomers — some 965,000 were registered as asylum-seekers between January and November. Still, Merkel has stuck to her optimistic insistence that "we will manage it" and refused to name a limit to the number of people Germany can take in, despite mounting criticism from conservative allies. She has pushed — to little avail so far — for more help from other European countries in sharing the burden, and insists that the crisis can only be solved through patient diplomacy.