LONDON—German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will step down from the leadership of her party and won’t seek reelection as chancellor, marking the end of her 13-year tenure dominating European politics.
“I have the firm feeling that today, the time has come to open a new chapter,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, according to Reuters. She has chaired the Christian Democrat party (CDU) since 2000, and been chancellor of Germany since 2005.
The shock move started a race within her party to find a successor.
The announcement came following a downturn in support for the CDU, with the party suffering two regional election losses.
On Oct. 28, a vote in the state of Hesse saw the party come first, but with an 11-point loss.
The coalition of the CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) almost collapsed, first over disputes on immigration policy, and then over the fate of a domestic intelligence chief.
After the vote in Hesse, SPD leader Andrea Nahles threatened to end the alliance if there was no improvement on policy.
‘Lost the Confidence of the Electorate’
After the vote, Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of Die Zeit newspaper, said Merkel’s ruling coalition had “lost the confidence of the electorate.”
Speaking about her dissatisfaction with the coalition, Merkel said: “Firstly, at the next CDU party congress in December in Hamburg, I will not put myself forward again as a candidate for the CDU chair.
“Secondly, this fourth term is my last as German chancellor. At the federal election in 2021, I will not stand.
“With this decision, I am trying to make a contribution which enables the German government to finally concentrate its efforts on good governance, something people demand and rightly so.”
CDU party officials had expected Merkel to seek re-election as chairwoman at a party congress in Hamburg in early December. Now, there are questions as to whether she will be able to make a smooth exit from the party.
Previous CDU chancellors Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl both had messy ends to their time in politics.
Merkel standing down from the party chair will allow a new CDU leader to build his or her profile before the next national election.
Merkel said CDU party Secretary General Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Health Minister Jens Spahn—a leading critic of the chancellor—announced they would seek the party chair. Party sources said Friedrich Merz, a former parliamentary leader of Merkel’s conservative alliance, would also run.
A Major Figure in European Politics
Merkel, now 64, has been a major figure in European politics since 2005, when George W. Bush was U.S. president and Tony Blair was prime minister of the United Kingdom.
She opened Germany’s borders to migrants fleeing the Middle East in 2015, a policy that continues to divide not just Germany but the European Union as a whole.
“We are witnessing a continuation of the pattern in place ever since Merkel’s mistakes in the 2015 migration crisis: The gradual but steady erosion of her political power,” Carsten Nickel, managing director at consultancy Teneo, told Reuters.
“Rather than outright instability in Germany and Europe, it simply means a continuation of the current leadership vacuum,” Nickel said.
In her announcement, Merkel said she would be focusing her foreign policy on Brexit and U.S. plans to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
People on the streets of Berlin offered their opinions on Merkel’s exit.
“I think it’s a pity, I think she did a fantastic job, but sadly she has lost support. Maybe, she doesn’t feel able to do it the way she always did. I am grateful for the time she has been there, but it might be time for something new,” Marc Ossege told Reuters.
Reuters contributed to this report.