WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Time magazine named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its 2015 “Person of the Year” on Wednesday, noting her resilience and leadership when faced with the refugee crisis and turmoil in the European Union over its currency this year.
In a statement explaining the magazine’s choice, managing editor Nancy Gibbs said despite crises in the region that caused “reason to wonder whether Europe could continue to exist,” Merkel, 61, emerged as an “indispensable player.”
“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,” Gibbs wrote.
In response to the news, Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told a government news conference: “I am sure the chancellor will cherish this as an incentive in her job.”
Merkel celebrated her 10-year anniversary as chancellor last month, making her the European Union’s longest-serving leader.
For years she was seen as a cautious, risk-averse leader who paid close attention to public opinion in formulating policy. But her leadership in the Ukraine crisis last year, her clinching of a deal this summer to keep Greece in the euro zone and her stance in the refugee crisis have changed that view.
In late August, when tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war in the Middle East streamed into Hungary, threatening a humanitarian crisis, Merkel agreed to suspend the European Union’s asylum rules and allow them to continue into Germany. She declared to sceptical countrymen: “Wir schaffen das,” which translates as, “We can do this.”
Her “open-door” stance has led to a fall in support for her conservatives and in her own popularity ratings, which have slid to 54 percent from 75 percent over eight months.
Time also noted her leadership this year in leading the West’s response to Vladimir Putin’s “creeping theft of Ukraine” and welcoming refugees to Germany despite “the reflex to slam doors, build walls and trust no one.”
Merkel topped a short list of finalists that included U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who came in third, and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was runner-up.
She is the first individual woman to hold the title since Corazon Aquino in 1986, though women have been honoured as part of a group. Last year, a group of Ebola doctors and survivors won the title.
Reporting by Megan Cassella in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr and Noah Barkin in Berlin; Editing by Nick Zieminski