29. October at 9:23  BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she was ready to hand over the leadership of her CDU (CDU) later this year. An unexpected decision that contained the clearest indication yet that their term of office was at the top of the largest European economy is running out.
Merkel also said she would not re-apply for office and retire from politics when her current term expires in 2021. But with political pressure on her growth and her government both unpopular and unstable, it was unclear whether she would be able to do so for so long.
Merkel has been chairing the CDU since 2000, and although her withdrawal from the party post would not automatically lead to her resignation as German Chancellor, the move is a tribute to her increasingly vulnerable position.
Merkel himself has said in the past that the chancellor should also be the leader of the governing party. However, she said Monday she had changed her mind in the summer as there were signs that "we can not continue the business as usual."
"It's time to open a new chapter," Merkel said at a Berlin press conference.
Reports of the announcement triggered speculation in the German media about who would be considered successor to Merkel. The 64-year-old has led Germany for the past 13 years and until recently was not considered a successor.
Earlier this year, however, she appeared to have given her blessing to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the former leader of the West German state of Saarland and now Secretary General of the CDU.
Kramp-Karrenbauer is regarded as moderate in the Merkel tradition, and the German media reported on Monday that she would be a candidate for the post of the party.
But also the conservative wing of the CDU should pose a challenge. Health Minister Jens Spahn (38) and Friedrich Merz, a former parliamentary group leader of the CDU, were both named in German news as candidates.
The CDU is expected to elect its new chairman in December at a party conference North German city of Hamburg. By Monday, it was widely expected that Merkel would apply for re-election, despite speculation that she might face a challenge as the party's electoral numbers had fallen and regional elections had led to a series of poor results.
Merkel's decision falls One day after her party suffered her party in the state elections in Hesse massive losses, which for a long time was a downer for the nation. Only two weeks ago, the sister party of the CDU, the Christian Social Union, suffered similar losses in their native Bavaria.
The move also takes place a month after Merkel's longtime floor leader in the German Bundestag, Volker Kauder, was unexpectedly defeated in an internal party vote. The loss for Merkel's longtime confidante marked a rare moment when the elected CDU representatives opposed the Chancellor's will.
Until last fall, Merkel was in a familiar position: the undoubtedly dominant figure in German politics with few real rivals. However, the September 2017 national elections resulted in an unexpectedly poor performance for the CDU, and the Chancellor's power has never been the same since then.
The Sunday elections to the Hessian state parliament – hometown of Frankfurt, the heart of the German financial system – gave Merkel's center-right CDU 27 percent of the vote.
That was good enough for first place, but a decline of 11 percent since the state last elected in 2013 and represents the worst performance of the party in more than half a century. Merkel described the results on Monday as "bitter" and "disappointing".
Support for Merkel's coalition partner, the Center-Left Social Democrats (SPD), also plummeted, dropping from 31 percent to 20 percent – a low that can not be seen for 72 years. The weak performance of the Social Democrats in this year's regional elections in Hesse and Bavaria has put the national leadership under pressure to force Merkel to make more concessions.
Luisa Beck contributed to this report.
Merkel's problems rise as her party stumbles in German state elections