Angela Merkel has announced she will stand down as head of her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, after heavy losses in the Hesse regional election. She plans to step down as chancellor in 2021.
Merkel, who has chaired the CDU since 2000, has been Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and has declared her intention to step down from the role at the end of this parliamentary term, in 2021. The CDU will elect a new leader at their party conference in December 2018; Merkel is likely to endorse CDU secretary general Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. The Hesse regional election, in which the CDU did not perform as well as it has in the past, is likely to have been a catalyst for the chancellor’s decision.
Traditionally the role of chancellor in Germany is taken by the leader of its largest party, but this is not legally binding. Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, remained chancellor for around 18 months after stepping down as leader of his party, the SPD.
The news comes in the wake of disappointing results for the CDU in Sunday’s Hesse regional election, which saw heavy losses for both the CDU and its coalition partner, the Social Democrat Party (SPD). The leftwing Green Party and the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which advocates banning the Islamic call to prayer, abandoning the Euro and closing Germany’s borders to immigrants, both saw significant gains; although the coalition of CDU and Green representatives currently in power in Hesse has lost its majority. AfD now holds seats in all 16 regional constituencies of Germany as well as the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, for the first time since its formation in 2013.
Critics and observers have suggested the CDU’s drop in support – dropping from 38 per cent in the Hesse regional election in 2013 to 27 per cent in 2018; and coming on the heels of similarly reduced support in the Bavarian local elections earlier in the month – is a reflection of national, rather than local, concerns. The coalition has been criticised for infighting and failure to follow through on policies; while Merkel – whose personal approval rate remains above 50 per cent – has come under fire both from AfD supporters for enabling immigration and from anti-AfD campaigners for being insufficiently critical of the controversially populist party.