German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been named TIME’s Person of the Year.
TIME Managing Editor Nancy Gibbs revealed that the woman who courted controversy in 2015 by opening her nation’s border to hundreds of thousands of refugees and managed Europe's debt crisis as the choice in a TODAY exclusive Wednesday morning.
"In a year where world leaders were tested all through the year, no one was tested the way she was, over and over again," Gibbs told Savannah Guthrie. "The threat to European peace and security really fell to her."
The magazine bestowed the title on the 61-year-old world leader for the way she managed the economic crisis over the summer, and the way she's currently handling the refugee crisis and terrorism threat looming over Europe.
"She has stepped up in a way that was uncharacteristic even for her," Gibbs said. "She’s been a very long-serving leader, the longest-serving in the west. She controls the world’s fourth largest economy, but this year she really was tested in how she would respond to some of the most difficult challenges that any leader is facing in the world."
Merkel is the first individual woman to receive the “Person of the Year” recognition since TIME changed its title from “Man of the Year” in 1999. Women, however, have been recognized as part of a group, such as last year’s winner, “Ebola Fighters.”
In a TIME essay, Gibbs said the magazine selected Merkel "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."
Merkel started the year by standing up to the Vladimir Putin, slowing down the Russian president’s attempt to seize Ukraine. Then came Greece’s financial meltdown that threatened the entire European euro zone, but which Merkel handled with the firm, no-nonsense hand of a school headmaster.
More recently, Merkel’s management of the epic migrant crisis that has swept her continent has lead people to call her “Europe’s conscience.” She opened Germany’s doors when other nations slammed theirs shut, facing intense pressure and criticism from both her own citizens and conservative allies.
“By viewing the refugees as victims to be rescued rather than invaders to be repelled, the woman raised behind the Iron Curtain gambled on freedom. The pastor’s daughter wielded mercy like a weapon,” Gibbs wrote. “You can agree with her or not, but she is not taking the easy road. Leaders are tested only when people don’t want to follow.”
TIME editors award the Person of the Year title to an individual or group selected who has had the most impact on the world and the news — for better or worse — over the past year.
Merkel, who became Germany’s chancellor in 2005, taking over the world’s fourth largest economy, beat out several other heavyweights on the short list for the title.
Among them, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS; Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump; “Black Lives Matter” activists; and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani.
Merkel is the fourth woman to appear solo on the magazine cover. The others, who appeared with the title, “Woman of the Year,” were Wallis Simpson, Soong Mei-ling (also known as Madame Chiang Kai-shek), Queen Elizabeth II and Corazon Aquino.
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