Will Angela Merkel Come to the Rescue of Liberal Politics?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a statement on the U.S. election results at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, November 9. Could Merkel be the savior of liberal politics in the West? Axel Schmidt/Reuters

It was vintage Merkel. Neatly organizing her papers before speaking in her soft Berliner accent, the German Chancellor made the announcement everybody had been waiting for, "To stand as a candidate for a fourth time after 11 years in power is anything but a trivial decision, not for the country, for the party, nor for me," she said. Angela Merkel spoke, not with a fanfare, not even with a smile but with that quiet determination that had been her trademark since she became the first female Chancellor in Germany.

In most countries serving more than two terms in office is unprecedented. In Germany less so; two of her most illustrious party comrades, Konrad Adenauer (chancellor 1949-1963) and Helmut Kohl (chancellor 1982-1998), similarly won four elections. But Frau Merkel's decision to seek a fourth term is different. The election campaigns of the two former chancellors were mostly of domestic interest. Adenauer's resignation in 1963 and Kohl's defeat in 1998 did not send the markets into a downward spiral. The opposite is true for Angela Merkel. For many around the world, Merkel is the personified image of stability, calm and, some might even say, the guarantor of sanity in a world that has run amok. It has become almost a truism to conclude that she is—in the words of The New York Times —is "the last powerful defender of Europe and the trans-Atlantic alliance."

In all likelihood Merkel will win again. Germany is always governed by coalitions and no combination of parties looks possible without Merkel's CDU Party. The recently much heralded alternative of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the Left Party is polling a mere 40 percent. Merkel's Christian Democrats alone polls 35 percent. Having suffered a dip in her stratospheric popularity in the wake of Germany's admission of one million refugees, her personal approval rating is now well over 50 percent. According to last Sunday's Emnid poll for Bild am Sonntag, 55 percent want her to continue. Julia Klöcker—an often critical voice in Merkel's own party—recently described her as Alternativlos: loosely translated, "without any alternative." That is not an endorsement. It is a statement of political fact.

At a time when Europe is reeling over the Brexit decision, in a world that is still coming to terms with the election of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, and at a time when the prospect of a victory for the French National Front's Marine Le Pen is no longer a distant possibility, it is not surprising that many hanker after the stability the German chancellor provides. But can she deliver?

Some have criticized die Kanzlerin for hesitation; for not assuming the responsibility of a leading nation. These accusations might have been true for the way Merkel approached the 2008 financial crisis, three years after becoming Chancellor. But they are not an accurate description of the way she has reacted to the challenges posed by Trump.

Related: Why Europe's populist revolt is spreading

In contrast to the great majority of Western leaders, Merkel very publicly gave the U.S. president-elect a guarded welcome: "Democracy, freedom, respecting the rule of law and people's dignity regardless of their origin, the colour of their skin, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views: It is on the basis of these values that Chancellor Merkel offers to work closely with the future President of the United States," read the message she sent Trump on Instagram.

Germany is not a military superpower. But Merkel has been very candid that she is not willing to accept the populism that propelled Mr Trump to power. Today, as well as after the forthcoming election, Germany will play the role of first among equals in the Western alliance.

By making this clear she has set the terms for a future partnership. More than six million jobs in America's rust belt depend on trade with the EU. By setting out her beliefs so publically she sent a clear message Donald Trump cannot afford to ignore.

"I've thought endlessly about it," said Angela Merkel when she announced that she'd run for a fourth term as German chancellor earlier this week. Indeed, "thinking endlessly" about things is the hallmark of her style of governance—and a source of strength. A German dictionary even coined a verb for her propensity to think long and hard about difficult decisions; "zu merkeln""to merkel"—was the slang word of the year in 2015. Hers is a different kind of leadership; one based not on populist catchphrases but on careful consideration and analysis. In a world of soundbites, slogans and simplistic solutions, a dose of " merkeln" is a welcome prospect.

Matt Qvortrup is author of Angela Merkel: Europe's Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth.