In the 2005 elections she led the CDU-CSU coalition to a narrow victory over the Social Democrats. No party, however, secured a workable plurality of seats, forcing the CDU-CSU into coalition with the Social Democrats. Merkel became chancellor, the first woman and the first E German after unification to do so. She remained chancellor after the 2009 elections when the CDU-CSU formed a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats. Her government's response to the effects of the post-2008 downturn in Germany and associated economic crisis in the eurozone in 2009–10 led to a loss of popularity at home and somewhat strained relations at times with harder hit European nations (especially when Germany enforced an austerity on Greece that also served to protect German banks that had contributed to the Greek economic crisis through irresponsible lending), but economic growth and low unemployment in Germany subsequently benefited the CDU-CSU.
In 2013 the CDU-CSU won again, but fell short of a majority and again entered into a coalition with the Social Democrats; Merkel remained chancellor. Coalition losses in 2017, resulting in part from a nationalist reaction against Merkel generally welcoming policies toward refugees in 2015, led to difficult negotiations for a new government. Ultimately Merkel re-formed the coalition with the Social Democrats in 2018 and secured a fourth term as chancellor. Subsequent losses by conservatives and Social Democrats in state elections, however, led Merkel to step down (2018) as CDU leader.
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