By Shashwat Awasthi

(Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Friday paid tribute to outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel, commending her 16-year leadership of Europe’s largest economy and describing her as a “very good person”.

The leaders, held in high regard on the international stage as role models for women in policymaking, met virtually at a CEO forum on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit where Ardern fondly recalled an early meeting between the pair in Germany.

“It’s not often when you come from a small island nation that you’ll find someone of such heft in the world of international diplomacy who felt so genuinely interested in the views of a humble New Zealander,” Ardern reminisced.

“Your constant engagement with the world, thoughtfulness and willingness to hear the perspective of others, in my mind, is a reflection of a true leader but also just a very good person.”

Merkel, 67, has cemented herself as an icon who has steered Germany since 2005 through milestone events such as the global financial crisis, the eurozone downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic, and is hailed as a champion of European integration.

Ardern, 41, became New Zealand’s youngest prime minister when she took office in 2017 and has garnered global praise in recent years for managing the pandemic, cracking down on extremism and gun laws following mass shootings and assembling one of the world’s most diverse cabinets.

Earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron gave Merkel a stylish send-off and praised her for keeping Europe united throughout her tenure.

The leaders agreed in the forum the challenges of the pandemic and of climate change were similar, since they were both exponential processes, the severity of which was hard to recognise at the start of a growth curve.

(Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)