Angela Merkel, who has been head of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for 18 years and served as the chancellor since 2005, has confirmed that she will give up on the key party post, while this term as chancellor will be her last. She admitted that it is time to open a new chapter in her life. She also acknowledged that it was an unprecedented move, but sees greener pastures for her party as well as the whole country.
"I do know this hasn't been done before, it is unprecedented, but I believe it offers far more opportunities than risks for the country, for the German government and for my party," she said at a press conference after a closed-door meeting with her fellow CDU members.
Her announcement was praised within her party as well as by political opponents; however, some insisted that this move was not enough and called on her to immediately resign as chancellor.
Minister-President of the German state of Hesse, where the CDU secured victory in Sunday’s election but faced a 10% loss of the votes in comparison to 2013, Volker Bouffier was among those who praised Merkel's giving up on the CDU leadership.
"Angela Merkel has made a noble decision, a right decision, a strong decision," he stated.
The leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party Christian Social Union (CSU), Horst Seehofer, who clashed with Merkel over his proposal on the stricter migration control, was more reserved.
“It’s a pity,” Seehofer, who experienced the similar fiasco as a party leader during the Bavarian regional election two weeks earlier, but chose not to abandon his CSU leadership, told the reporters.
Another prominent CSU figure, Bavaria’s state head Markus Soeder, said that it was the CDU’s concern.
“We take this will all the due respect into account. We would now watch the situation closely, how it would unfold. Now, we must do our job here,” said Soeder, who was about to begin coalition talks within his land government.
SPD and Greens’ Power Women Give “High Five” to Merkel
The leader of the Social Democrats (SPD) Andrea Nahles, who is also dealing with her party’s sinking rating and poor performance in the regional elections, has given credit to Merkel. Nahles, who previously blamed the federal government for the SPD’s results in Hesse and Bavaria, named her 18-year-long CDU leadership an “outstanding result.” According to Nahles, Merkel had been “ridiculed” as a woman from the very beginning, but she has stuck to her own managing style despite the criticism, and the CDU should be thankful to her.
However, Nahles claimed that Merkel’s stepping down as the CDU leader won’t impact the grand coalition between the CDU/CSU and SPD.
"I hope that, once there is a clear decision, these arguments over personnel and direction… will be over," she said pointing out that if things go well "it could have a positive effect for us and our work together."
The leader of the Greens, the party that exceeded its own expectations in Hesse and Bavaria, Annalena Baerbock, also expressed her gratitude for having Merkel as the CDU leader. She praised the chancellor for giving the party a modern makeover. She also took the opportunity to take a jab at Seehofer, saying that others may draw some interesting conclusions after Merkel’s announcement.
AfD, Free Democrats and Die Linke Want More
The right-leaning spectrum of the German political scene has been far more critical. This is the case for the Alternative for Germany party, for whom the regional elections have become a success, as they have entered all the 16 regional parliaments. AfD leader of the Alexander Gauland stated that they want to see changes within Merkel's CDU, which is only possible if her successor does not continue to implement her policies.
"We do not know who will come after Merkel and what policy will be continued after Merkel. There are some politicians in the CDU, I have named two — [the prime minister of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin] Lashet and [the prime minister of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, Daniel] Guenther — if they really follow in Merkel's footsteps, it will be just a change in name. And the situation, in this case, will not change," Gauland told reporters, pointing out that his party did not want to remain the opposition forever.
The leader of the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP) has slammed her move as insufficient. Christian Lindner insisted that Merkel should resign not just as the CDU leader but as German chancellor as well.
"Merkel is resigning from the wrong post. Maybe, it will be good for the CDU if a new boss comes, but it would be good for Germany if a new leader took over the government," Lindner said.
Incidentally, this call was echoed by the left-wing party Die Linke as its chief Katja Kipping criticized Merkel’s decision to leave only the party leadership as inconsistent. According to the politician, the grand coalition has lost the trust of the majority, and “even worse, they have no idea how to respond to the challenges.”