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Angela Merkel lays out legacy in Harvard speech

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German Chancellor Merkel delivers the Commencement Address at Harvard
German Chancellor Merkel delivers the Commencement Address at Harvard -
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REUTERS/Brian Snyder
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Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel invoked the words of Ronald Reagan, as she mounted a staunch defence of Europe in a speech to graduates of Harvard University.

As the date of her retirement approaches, her supporters, and even many of her critics, are beginning to recognise that the space she occupies will not be filled easily.

"I want to leave this wish with you: tear down walls of ignorance and narrow-mindedness for nothing has to stay as it is," she told graduating students. Rarely does Merkel speak in English, nervous of being misunderstood, or misunderstanding others - it was a testament to the occasion.

In this speech she laid down her legacy, and rebuked the isolationism of Donald Trump, though didn't mention him by name.

Switching back in to German, she spoke of a united Europe, one she hopes will outlive her final term as Chancellor of Germany, a post she will stand down from in 2021.

"Europe overcame centuries-old conflicts. A peaceful order based on common values rather than supposed national strength emerged. Despite all the discussions and temporary setbacks, I firmly believe that we Europeans have united for the better."

More recently, Merkel’s relationship, or lack thereof, with Donald Trump, has been symptomatic of a growing schism between Europe and the US.

Whilst Barack Obama treated Merkel as an ally and close friend, Donald Trump has seen Europe's leaders as competitors and potential rivals to Washington.

As Euronews’ Jona Kallgren says, “They hardly have a relationship anymore, they rarely speak. They don’t seem to appreciate each other.”

He noted that, whilst Merkel’s speech was a strong rebuke of Trumpian values, it didn’t mention the US President by name.

“If she had given the speech in the era of Barack Obama, then she would have mentioned many a time "my good friend Barack".

Angela Merkel's legacy will vary from country to country, and town to town. Many in Greece see her as a bully, over her handling of the country’s sovereign debt crisis in 2010, Hungarians blame her for a failed migration policy at the height of the continents migration crisis in 2015. But for many Europhiles, she was the one who held things together during some of the unions toughest moments.