“I’m looking forward to seeing you again.” Angela Merkel began her first speech after leaving office with surprising emotion. On Wednesday evening, the former Chancellor gave the farewell speech to former DGB chairman Reiner Hoffmann, with whom Merkel had been dealing for around eight years. It is a “lovely thing” to honor a former as a former, said Merkel in the Bolle festival halls in Moabit.
After a few warm words about the social partnership and the role of the non-partisan union in democracy, Merkel got to the point. “I cannot give this speech without addressing Russia’s blatant breach of international law.” As early as the 1990s, the wars in former Yugoslavia “made it clear to us how fragile the order is.”
As a former head of government, she “does not publicly assess the work of the federal government,” said Merkel, and then did it anyway. At least a little bit: “I support all the efforts of the German government, the EU and the USA to stop this barbaric war in Russia.”
Her solidarity applies to Ukraine and the refugees, Merkel continued, and spoke of a “small ray of hope in this infinite sadness” by emphasizing the helpfulness of Ukraine’s neighboring countries. “It is not yet possible to say what the consequences of the war will be, but they will be far-reaching,” said Merkel, naming the risk of famine in Africa in this context.
No peace without Europe. This core message was the focus of Merkel’s remarks. The former chancellor emphasized the “wonderful idea of a European community of peace and values”. Europe is “tough” and during her 16-year term in office she herself has received “some slaps” in Brussels.
And yet, especially in these times, it is becoming clear “that the unity of the European Union is vital for survival”. Merkel appealed to those present, including various federal ministers and prime ministers, employer officials and trade union bosses, to “make a contribution to European unity”.
At this point, Reiner Hoffmann, who left office at the beginning of May after eight years as DGB chairman and had always been very committed to the EU, quickly drew attention to himself. “No one of the social partners is as shaped by Europe as Reiner Hoffmann,” said Merkel, wishing that he “also makes a further contribution to European unification in his new life.”
She herself fondly remembers working with the former DGB chairman, who was “really interested in compromise” and, like the employers, contributed to overcoming the 2008/09 financial crisis and the pandemic. “We can all only be proud of the social partnership,” said Merkel. The low youth unemployment and the increase in jobs subject to social security contributions are also due to the cooperation between politicians, employers and trade unions.
“Social partnership requires more regulation than some believe,” said the ex-Chancellor, looking back on a few socio-political milestones during her tenure.
She had long had reservations about a statutory minimum wage because the collective bargaining system had been interfered with, Merkel said. But the state had to act because of the decreasing collective bargaining coverage, just as it did a few years later, when the “unscrupulous exploitation of loopholes in the meat industry” provoked the federal government under her leadership to intervene. But that’s history.
She had heard that there would be another Prime Minister’s conference in the next few days, said Merkel, fortunately without her: “I’ll get through the day like that.”