BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that the decision not to run for office again in 2021 has allowed her to focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and other pressing problems during her final year in office.
Merkel has seen her approval ratings rise during the pandemic but ruled out seeking a fifth term and remained coy about her post-retirement plans.
“Of course it's a special time if I don't have to think about what the next election campaign will look like,” she told reporters during her annual news conference in Berlin. “But this gives me the possibility to concentrate on governing during this very challenging time.”
The 66-year-old cited the pandemic as the main issue for the coming months, alongside the need for progress on climate change, Brexit and a pan-European migration policy.
“Nobody knows what the winter will be like,” Merkel said, urging Germans not to let their guard down when it comes to preventing the spread of the virus.
Merkel, who went into quarantine for two weeks at the start of the pandemic after her doctor tested positive, said she understood how difficult the restrictions on everyday life were for some people.
“We know how parents are getting up every day and worrying about whether their child has a runny nose,” she said. “This is going to last all winter and of course that's totally nerve-wracking. We have to see how we keep the country going nevertheless."
Known for doing her own shopping at the local supermarket, Merkel said she found the need for social distancing particularly difficult. "Most of all I miss the spontaneous encounters with other people,” she said.
Merkel acknowledged that the risk of contagion had also significantly changed her work, with most international summits replaced by video calls.
While such video calls with fellow leaders risk being “rather static,” especially if there are a large number of participants, she said smaller online gatherings could be “very intense and in some cases no worse” than physical meetings.
The lack of travel hadn't freed her up to “read thick books or somehow think about the world after tomorrow,” Merkel added.
Asked whether she had begun making plans to fulfill her dreams of visiting the Rocky Mountains or traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway after her retirement, Merkel said she'd not booked anything yet.
“Now also isn't the time to book such journey,” she said. “I'm fully occupied with the present.”
Dismissing speculation about possible roles she might take on after 16 years as chancellor, Merkel said: “First of all I want to keep working and then something will emerge, I'm optimistic about that.”