0920 GMT March 24, 2019
Merkel announced Monday that she will give up the leadership of her conservative Christian Democratic Union in December and won’t stand for a fifth term as chancellor — signaling the beginning of the end at the helm for the woman many had labeled the “leader of the free world”, AP reported.
With her announcement, she indicated she has no intention of shirking from the “major foreign policy challenges” ahead, suggesting by taking the question of her future out of the picture her often rancorous coalition might govern better.
“With this decision, I am trying to contribute to allowing the government to concentrate its strength, finally, on governing well — and people rightly demand that,” Merkel said.
Merkel, 64, has led the CDU since 2000 and Germany since 2005. She governs Germany in a “grand coalition” of what traditionally has been the country’s biggest parties — the CDU, Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and the center-left Social Democrats.
She announced her decision the day after voters punished both her CDU and the Social Democrats in an election in the central state of Hesse. It came two weeks after a similar debacle for the CSU and Social Democrats in neighboring Bavaria.
Her announcement comes amid growing concerns about far-right nationalist parties making inroads in Europe, including Germany. Sunday’s result in Hesse means that the Alternative for Germany party now holds seats in every state legislature and federal parliament.
Merkel said she sees “many more opportunities than risks for our country, the German government and also my party” in setting a transition of power in motion.
She said she hopes to open the way for “new success for the CDU” by letting it prepare for her departure as chancellor, and she won’t interfere with the choice of a successor.
Merkel will now concentrate on smoothing over the differences in her government to keep it running until the end of the parliamentary term in 2021, which is far from guaranteed. The Social Democrats only reluctantly joined her coalition in March, and another crisis or an already-agreed midterm review next fall could spell its end.
The Social Democrats’ leader, Andrea Nahles, said she hopes the CDU leadership contest will end arguments within Merkel’s bloc about its direction and leaders. If things go well, “it could have a positive effect for us and our work together.”
Two prominent candidates immediately threw their hats in the ring: Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, the party’s general secretary, who is viewed as a Merkel ally and largely backs her centrist approach; and Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an ambitious conservative who has talked tough on migration and has criticized Merkel.