Merkel through the ages
German Chancellor Angela Merkel marks a decade in charge has risen to become the world's most powerful woman and "the mother of the nation" Getty

Ten years ago today, Angela Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor, and her leadership of Europe's economic powerhouse has been marked by the country's resurgence on the global stage, the prevention of Greece leaving the EU and her emergence as a moral compass in Europe's refugee crisis. Having become just the third post-World War II chancellor to mark a decade in charge, what has led to her rise as the most powerful woman in the world and "the backbone of the 28-member European Union", according to Forbes?

Late, but fearless entry onto the political scene

Merkel entered politics relatively late on with a background as a scientist (she holds a doctorate in quantum chemistry) and an Ossi (nickname for former residents of East Germany), meaning that a rise to power seemed improbable given the climate at the time. Just a year after joining the Democratic Awakening political party, Merkel became the spokeswoman for East Germany's first and only democratic leader. A defining early moment for Merkel would come in 1999 when she stunned the country's political sphere.

That year, it emerged that Germany's then chancellor, Helmut Kohl, had accepted illegal party donations and deposited money into slush funds which he doled out to friends. Nobody was willing to confront Kohl on the matter, but Merkel – who Kohl used to call "Maedchen" or "little girl" – took to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper to condemn her mentor.

The piece, which would topple Kohl, was published on 22 December 1999 and it called for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party to go "its own way" without the "old war horse". Merkel had set herself on a trajectory of political success.

Ability to gauge the political mood and change course

A crucial factor in Merkel's success has been her ability to adapt her political decisions, allowing her to dominate the centre ground of German politics. Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, Merkel went from being a supporter of nuclear power to an opponent.

In a dramatic U-turn, the chancellor said that Germany would phase out nuclear power by 2022, while continuing on the path to green energy. The move won strong support from across the political spectrum and the hallmark of successfully changing track has come to be known as "Merkelisch".

The German news organisation, Deutsche Welle notes: "Her tendency to change tack hasn't been a problem, though. In fact, the opposite seems the case. The woman who was once patronisingly dubbed Helmut Kohl's 'Mädchen,' or girl, has matured into the 'mother of the nation' according to many commentators. She has her party and the government under control, and there are clear reasons for that."

A mixed bag: Merkel's response to the refugee crisis

With 2015 seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war to seek refuge in Europe, the continent's initial response was underwhelming, with some countries opting to stop refugees crossing their borders. But during the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, Merkel announced that refugees could settle in Germany. Her open door policy was at first celebrated at home and abroad, and refugees stated their love for the chancellor as they arrived in Germany chanting "Mama Merkel".

Despite her hugely popular international status as a beacon of hope for refugees, the open door policy has become unpopular with the German citizens with the flow of arrivals continuing at a steady rate. German facilities have been stretched to the limit and Merkel's approval ratings fell to a four-year low of 54% in October.

After a decade in power marked by prudence, adaptability and solid public support, it seems Merkel's political future will very much depend on how her current policy on refugees plays out.