Time names Merkel as its 'person of 2015'

Jennie Matthew
1 / 4

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her "steadfast moral leadership"

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her "steadfast moral leadership" (AFP Photo/Thierry Charlier)

New York (AFP) - Time magazine on Wednesday named German Chancellor Angela Merkel as its person of the year for 2015, hailing her leadership during debt and refugee crises that threatened to tear the European Union apart.

In power for a decade at the helm of Europe's biggest economy, the world's most powerful woman beat runners-up, the leader of the Islamic State extremist group and Donald Trump as Time's dominant personality of the year.

The venerable American magazine lauded Merkel as the indispensable player in managing the prospect of Greek bankruptcy threatening the eurozone, and the migrant and refugee crisis.

"For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is Time's Person of the Year," wrote editor Nancy Gibbs.

The person of the year accolade acknowledges what the magazine considers to be the world's biggest newsmaker, or influential mover.

Since the tradition began in 1927, Merkel is only the fourth woman to win. Last year, healthcare workers treating the Ebola epidemic were honored. In 2013, it was Pope Francis. President Barack Obama has won twice.

Throughout the eurozone crisis, when a battered continent looked to Berlin, Merkel has preached fiscal discipline and kept a tight grip on the nation's purse strings, soothing the angst of a thrifty populace.

- On track for million asylum seekers -

This summer the usually cautious leader took perhaps the biggest gamble of her career by throwing open Germany's doors to asylum seekers -- owning an issue set to define her legacy.

Germany announced on Monday that it has welcomed more than 960,000 asylum seekers in 2015, putting it on track for a million arrivals this year, as conflicts rage in Syria, the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In Europe, a spokesman for Merkel welcomed the accolade, and EU president Donald Tusk offered his congratulations, his spokesperson said.

In the past Time has showed its editorial teeth by naming sinister figures -- Adolf Hitler in 1938 and Joseph Stalin both in 1939 and 1942.

A Lutheran pastor's daughter, 61-year-old Merkel grew up behind the Iron Curtain and was first elected chancellor in 2005.

She has been praised by refugees as "Mama Merkel" and derided by others as the eurozone's "austerity priestess." But her stunning ascent from communist East Germany defies political convention.

"The prospect of Greek bankruptcy threatened the very existence of the euro zone. The migrant and refugee crisis challenged the principle of open borders. And finally, the carnage in Paris revived the reflex to slam doors, build walls and trust no one," Gibbs wrote Wednesday.

- Not taking the easy road -

"Each time Merkel stepped in. Germany would bail Greece out, on her strict terms. It would welcome refugees as casualties of radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it," she added.

"You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don't want to follow."

Seemingly indifferent to the trappings of power and lacking vanity, she lives in a Berlin flat with her rarely seen scientist husband Joachim Sauer.

She shops in a neighborhood supermarket and spends holidays hiking in the Alps.

Her oratory is often monotonous and she is awkward in front of the cameras, but it is this air of ordinariness that has made Merkel a hit with German voters, who value no-nonsense pragmatism and competence.

A star student at school, she excelled in Russian, which she has put to use in defusing the Ukraine conflict with President Vladimir Putin, who was a KGB officer in East Germany when the Wall fell in 1989.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the IS extremist group, Republican presidential candidate Trump, America's Black Lives Matter activists and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani were named by Time as runners up.