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 show exclusive Wednesday morning.
The magazine bestowed the title on the 61-year-old world leader “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,” TIME editor Nancy Gibbs wrote in an essay explaining the magazine’s choice. “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 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.”
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.