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Merkel Expected To Push For Global Cohesiveness In New Year's Speech


German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to stay in power for a few more years. She will finish her term, she says, in 2021 before leaving. But the longtime leader has already resigned as leader of her party, so Germany is looking toward its future as Merkel delivers a New Year's speech today. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is in Berlin. Hey there, Soraya.


INSKEEP: How does Angela Merkel see the next couple of years?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, she's seeing it as a time of global cohesiveness or unity if her speech that she is going to be delivering shortly will, you know - gives any indication. She says that Germans need to work together not just at home but with other nations to meet the challenges of climate change or migration or fighting against terrorism.

But she also talks about her decision to step down, once again saying that she was not forced out, that she already had decided not to seek another term as chancellor even before all this government chaos began. She says 13 years at the helm is, quote, "reason enough" and that democracy thrives on change.

INSKEEP: I just want to circle back and look at that phrase you mentioned - global cohesiveness. That is not the first phrase that probably comes to many people's minds when they think about the world the last year or two.

SARHADDI NELSON: Yes. And she's someone who's still firmly believes that that is the world we live in and that these - the nationalists and populists, who are becoming a problem in Europe and, certainly, in Germany for her - you know, this is something that she wants to fight against and has made it clear that now that she's free of all the political things that she has to deal with with her party in terms of reuniting that and addressing government issues, that she can actually focus on this message and getting people to rethink their approach to life, generally.

INSKEEP: Well, when you talk about the rise of nationalists, the rise of populists, a big factor there was immigration. It's an issue that's been seized upon. And, of course, in Germany, Merkel herself allowed more than one million migrants and refugees - asylum seekers - in from the Middle East, from Africa, from elsewhere since 2015. Has she had any second thoughts about doing that?

SARHADDI NELSON: Not really, not when it comes to the actual decision to open the borders, if you will - although, she would dispute that that's what she did. What she does have thoughts or regrets about is that her government really wasn't able to deal with the issue - I mean, with this large number of people. There were a lot of delays in getting any sort of integration worked out or streamlining - excuse me - streamlining asylum applications.

And also deportations - this is a huge issue. You have more than half of the people who've been ordered deported because they don't qualify or have committed crimes or whatever - are still in Germany. They just can't seem to send them back for a variety of reasons.

INSKEEP: OK, so German versions of issues that Americans are wrestling with too - I want to ask, Soraya. So Merkel has said she's stepping down. We would call her a lame duck. But she's going to be a lame duck for a very long time, for a matter of years. Can she actually get anything done?

SARHADDI NELSON: Well, perhaps. Forbes in this year has - the Forbes magazine in this year has been a little bit prophetic because they still call her the most powerful woman in the world. And this is even though she's been at her weakest politically. Basically, if you look at it from a domestic standpoint, her handpicked successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is the new party leader and may become the new chancellor.

But she's still facing a lot of challenges because of the divisions within her party, which remains weak, as well as the loss of voters to the nationalists and populists. And that's something she's going to have to fight on the European level as well.

INSKEEP: Well, we'll be listening for you in the new year. Soraya, thanks.

SARHADDI NELSON: You're welcome, Steve. Have a good one.

INSKEEP: Thank you. That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.