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As Angela Merkel steps down in Germany, candidates sought to mimic her for the win

Germany votes on replacement for Merkel
Germany votes in national election to replace Angela Merkel 06:32

Berlin — the world was still weeks, possibly even months away from confirmation of who the new German Chancellor will be on Monday, as the focus shifted toward forming a coalition government a day after national elections. Whoever eventually takes over the top job in Europe's biggest economy, the candidates spent weeks falling over themselves to prove who would most closely resemble outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

As CBS News correspondent Chris Livesay reported, there was a new, Angela Merkel-shaped hole in global politics on Monday morning. After 16 years in office, the former research scientist and daughter of a Lutheran preacher was finally saying "aufedersein" as the leader of her country. 

Merkel has been lauded as a bulwark of Europe who helped save the European Union from imploding during the Euro financial crisis. 

Her secret? A stoic calm that not only influenced German society, it came to define it, according to political scientist Frank Stauss. 

"There's a lot of common sense in [the] German public, and maybe even due to her," he told CBS News.

Who will replace Angela Merkel in Germany? 03:52

Merkel's legacy spanned four American presidencies. She befriended some, including Barack Obama, but clashed with others, including his successor, Donald Trump.

As Trump retreated from international affairs, David Deissner, the executive director of the German political consultancy Atlantik-Brücke, said many people in Europe and around the globe looked to Merkel as the new leader of the free world. 

"The Trump years make clear that Western values [are] not only represented by the United States," Deissner told Livesay. "This is why many people said she was carrying the torch of Western values and freedom." 

While Trump worked to keep migrants and refugees out of his country, building a wall along the southern U.S. border, Merkel opened Germany's doors to more than 1 million refugees. It was her shining moment, according to most Germans.  

Merkel and Laschet Campaign in Aachen on Eve of Federal Elections
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) looks on during a campaign event on the eve of federal elections, September 25, 2021, in Aachen, Germany. Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images/Getty

"I'm proud with all these refugees that came to Germany," one woman on the streets of the German capital said. "It was a fantastic sign, and people look in another way now on Germany."

"It was a good thing," agreed a younger resident. "But then, the question is how you deal with it."

There was indeed a backlash to her welcoming policy: On Merkel's watch, a far-right party entered parliament for the first time since WWII, and anti-migrant movements took hold across Europe. In Hungary, they erected a fence along the border. 

Hundreds stuck in Serbia as Hungary seals border 02:36

Once heralded as the leader of the free world, Merkel now leaves the reins of the most powerful country in Europe — as well as many of the tensions she sought to resolve — for her successor to pick up. 

Germany's center-left Social Democrats party narrowly came out ahead of Merkel's center-right bloc in Sunday's voting. But it was hardly a rebuke of Merkel's leadership — the leader of the winning party, Olaf Scholz, has been Merkel's own finance minister for several years.

Scholz made it clear on Monday that he would look to form a coalition government with some of the smaller parties, including the environmentally-focused Greens, quickly. He said he hoped to have a government formed by the new year. 

Once Time Magazine's Person of the Year, she now leaves the reins of the most powerful country in Europe, as well as many of the tensions she sought to resolve, in the hands of her successor. 

Scholz, who may well be that person, is known to project the same sense of calm that Merkel brought to the job, and he even uses some of the same hand gestures.

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