German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Monday (29 October) she no longer wants to run for CDU chairmanship in December and, after the current legislative term, does not want to stand as a candidate for the chancellorship. EURACTIV Germany reports on ‘the end of an era’ in the country.
“Chancellorship and party chairmanship belong together” – until Monday morning this has been Merkel’s political credo. Now one has to add: as long as there is enough power for both. However, after the state elections in Hesse, it is not enough anymore.
After 18 years at the helm of her party, she does not want to run for party chief at the upcoming CDU congress in December. Eighteen years – and most of the time she has been sitting firmly in the driving seat.
Only in the summer of 2015, during the migration crisis, when she decided to open the borders – a measure that was originally planned for the time span of only two weeks – her great power began to crumble.
Merkel’s worst enemies have been sitting in their own ranks ever since. While the opening of the border was praised as a humane gesture, especially in the left-wing spectrum, and brought her considerable popularity in the electorate of the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party, the approval in the conservative camp plummeted.
The gruelling arguments with Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, in particular, caused the population to doubt whether Merkel is still holding the reins. But after Seehofer was able to only fetch 37% of the vote in the Bavarian election two weeks ago, the defeat in Hesse is clearly blamed on the Chancellor.
On election night, CDU front-runner and incumbent Prime Minister of Hesse Volker Bouffier made no secret that he sees the responsibility in Berlin.
“The message, which one can and must, of course, redirect from Hesse to Berlin: People would like to see less argument, they would like objective-oriented work,” Bouffier told the Hessian broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk.
He spoke of a “wake-up call for Berlin”. Apparently not unjustly: 73% of the migrant CDU voters in Hesse stated that the election was a good opportunity to give the Berlin coalition a warning.
At a press conference on Monday afternoon, Merkel made a clear commitment to this responsibility: “If people in the country voice clearly what they think of the work of the federal government, and also me personally, then that is a clear signal,” she said and added that as Chancellor and CDU chief, she bears the responsibility.
Merkel also said that it had always been her wish to bear – and leave – state and party offices in dignity. With Monday’s decision to voluntarily cede from the party leadership and not to run again in December, she could succeed in this.
Chancellor Merkel wants to stay, at least until the end of her current legislative term. She excluded another candidacy, nor would she again apply for a parliamentary mandate or other political offices. Merkel’s political career comes to an end.
Hardly proclaimed, the fight for Merkel’s legacy is in full swing. Merkel’s confidant and successor, CDU Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (“AKK”), has already thrown her hat in the ring for the party presidency.
But the conservative wing has something else in mind. While AKK stands for a continuation of the Merkel course, many in the CDU – and especially the CSU – want a shift to the right: strict asylum rules and a return to traditional, conservative values.
Since Monday morning, the name of Friedrich Merz has resurfaced in the media. At the turn of the millennium, he was once party chairman then deputy chairman of the CDU parliamentary group in the German Bundestag.
He was one of Merkel’s worst opponents but was successfully displaced by her and disappeared for a good decade from the political scene. Ahead of the party congress in December, he could become the big AKK challenger. Because the succession is not yet regulated.
Support also comes from the former President of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) Hans-Olaf Henkel: “As CDU party leader and chancellor, there is no more suitable candidate than Friedrich Merz,” said Henkel, now an MEP for the European Conservatives and Reformers (ECR).
“The failed rescue of Greece, the haphazard energy turnaround, the refugee crisis, the rise of the AfD and Brexit are failures of Angela Merkel, each of which alone would have been a sufficient reason to resign. With Friedrich Merz at the top, the CDU could soon recover and the AfD be cut into half,” Henkel said.
FDP leader Christian Lindner spoke on Monday of “dramatic consequences” of the Hesse election for German federal politics. The “Merkel doctrine” failed. The Union had become dependent and would be crushed by this doctrine.
However, according to him, Merkel now renounces from the wrong office: “For the CDU, a new leader may be good but for Germany, a new government would be good,” he said.
Greens leader Annalena Baerbock emphasised that her party, which received the most votes alongside the AfD, would be open for a coalition with the SPD, CDU or the FDP. After 18 years at the helm of the party, it was a big step to abandon the chairmanship, she said. Especially as a woman, she would pay Merkel respect for her work in this position.