Merkel wins Time award after year of crises

Who we were? Some of the past winners of Time‘s award.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been named Time magazine’s person of the year. She dominated three major stories in 2015. How much can Time’s winners teach us about our changing world?

Three crises engulfed Europe this year. When Time magazine considered the shortlist for their ‘Person of the Year’, they realised one woman had been at the centre of all three. Angela Merkel is officially the Chancellor of Germany, but this week Time dubbed her ‘Chancellor of the Free World’.

‘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,’ Nancy Gibbs, Time’s editor wrote, ‘Angela Merkel is “Time’s Person of the Year”.’

Merkel led the response of European creditors to the Greek economic crisis during the spring and summer. Pressure was mounting on both sides for Greece to leave the euro before a very strict bailout was agreed in July.

She then made the most eye-catching intervention in the refugee and migration crisis which increasingly dominated the continent’s attention later in the year. ‘The right to political asylum has no limits on the number of asylum seekers,’ she said. Germany is now on course to take more than a million refugees in 2015.

And throughout the year, Merkel played a leading role in efforts to reach a solution to Ukraine’s cycle of sporadic fighting and uneasy ceasefires.

The award recognises the most influential person of the year, without passing judgment on whether their impact was positive. Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, was the first winner in 1927. Since then the award has usually been given to men — Merkel is only the fourth individual woman to be given the title. Politicians have regularly won; Gerald Ford is the only US president since 1932 who did not win.

But particularly in recent years the list of winners has diversified. The Apollo 8 astronauts and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg now sit alongside a group of whistleblowers from 2002 and more conceptual choices, including the computer in 1982 and ‘You’ in 2006.

A history lesson?

Such a list provides a valuable historical insight, say some. The politicians and military leaders of the 1940s remind us of the danger the world was in; pioneers can show us how we have overcome boundaries; Merkel’s inclusion reflects the profoundly important pressures which conflict and globalisation are creating. A study in significant individuals can teach us a lot.

Individuals are over-rated, respond others. Our planet has a population of seven billion, and no one person can give a remotely realistic reflection of the complex priorities we face at any one time. Inevitably, lists such as this simply present life through the narrow prism of westerners’ priorities — particularly those of its men.

You Decide

  1. Do you agree with the decision to make Angela Merkel the person of the year?
  2. Do lists like this provide us with a valuable history lesson?


  1. Make a list of seven people who you think have been particularly influential this year. Be prepared to justify your choices.
  2. Research a past winner of the Time award and prepare a short presentation on them. What did they do and what can — and can’t they teach us about the world of their time?

Some People Say...

“Individuals never change the world on their own.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Have Merkel’s decisions changed my life this year?
The Greek debt crisis will continue to have a major impact on the world economy; the solution is the source of fierce debate, with some arguing it averted disaster and others saying it caused it. We can learn a lot from the refugee crisis as a complex reflection on the way humans react when faced with war. And Ukraine remains one of several sources of tension between the West and Russia — involving some nuclear-armed powers.
Who else made the shortlist?
After Merkel and Baghdadi (see Word Watch), the controversial US presidential candidate Donald Trump was third. The activists from Black Lives Matter, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick and the transgender former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner were also on the list.

Word Watch

The Greek crisis has been ongoing since 2009, and two previous bailouts had been agreed. It intensified this year after an anti-austerity government was elected in Athens in January. Many Greeks faced poverty and also showed their anger by voting against the terms of a proposed bailout in a referendum. In Germany, opposition also mounted among those who did not want to pay for the deal: 63 of Merkel’s MPs rebelled against her to vote against the bailout which was agreed.
Merkel’s decision was hailed by bodies such as the UN, but it was far from universally popular in Germany. Some opinion polls suggested it had caused her approval to suffer a 20% drop.
Passing judgment
Some notorious figures have been chosen — previous winners have included Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. Hitler won the title in 1938, the year before the outbreak of the Second World War. Stalin won in 1939 and 1942. This year, Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi came second.
The others were Wallis Simpson in 1936, Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 and Philippine President Corazon Aquino in 1986.

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