The era of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has ruled since 2005, is drawing to a close. She declared on Monday that she would not run again for the Presidency of her Christian Democratic party (CDU) in December. She seems to have drawn conclusions from yesterday’s state elections in Hesse. Though the CDU became the strongest party, much like the Social Democrats it lost more than ten percentage points of the votes compared to the previous elections.
Merkel's move comes as a surprise. Just a few days ago, she had declared that she wanted to run for the Presidency again. Above all, however, she had always stressed that party chairmanship and the Chancellery belonged in one hand. It can therefore be assumed that Merkel will also hand over the Chancellery in the coming months - probably by summer at the latest.
In recent years, Germany has been considered an anchor of stability in an environment marked by the Euro crisis, the Ukrainian conflict, the Syrian war, Brexit or the refugee crisis. Now Germany itself is facing months of political uncertainty and potential further instability.
So far, the CDU has always had the Chancellor's office and party leadership in one hand. It is therefore likely that Merkel's successor for the party leadership will also be her successor as head of government. Currently, four promising candidates for the CDU presidency are foreseeable:
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, CDU Secretary General. She is Merkel's successor of choice and was therefore brought to Berlin by the Chancellor a year ago from Saarland. Since then, she has done a lot to secure the support of the party base. But: For years, she was Prime Minister of Saarland and still has little federal and no international political profile. Above all, politically she represents the same values as Merkel - and is thus hardly acceptable for conservative CDU members who are bothered by their party’s refugee policy and the "social democratization" under Merkel.
Jens Spahn, Federal Minister of Health. One of the few internal party opponents of Merkel who openly takes a stand against her. He represents very conservative positions and inflicted a severe defeat on the Chancellor in the programmatic debate at the last party conference. In the party, however, he is considered too young and too ambitious, so that it is unlikely that he would win a majority at a party conference.
Armin Laschet, Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. He has never openly shown ambitions for the chancellorship, but his name has increasingly been tipped as Merkel's successor. The reason: He manages a coalition of CDU and liberal FDP relatively successfully in Düsseldorf. He represents liberal positions similar to Merkel but is also on good terms with the Greens. Of all the candidates, he would be best suited to lead a coalition of conservatives, liberals and Greens at federal level. This option exists because the Social Democrats currently governing with Merkel are themselves battered by heavy election losses and have repeatedly brought an end to the Grand Coalition into play.
Friedrich Merz, former chairman of the Conservative group in the Bundestag. Merz is one of those men in the CDU who were overthrown by Merkel on her way to the top. He has not held a political office for more than ten years and works as a business lawyer. However, within his party he is regarded as an economic and financial expert, conservative and assertive.
Two other prominent names for Merkel's successor are being mentioned again and again. The first is Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has enormous difficulties in managing her portfolio and is relatively unpopular in the party. On the other hand, the President of the Bundestag and former Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who due to his old age would only be conceivable as a bridging solution.
Germany is likely to be largely paralyzed on the foreign policy stage in the coming months. Not only because of the search for a successor to Merkel, but also because of the instability of Merkel's Social Democratic coalition partner. So, it is conceivable that Merkel's successor in the CDU party presidency next year will not only lead the Chancellery but will also immediately form a new coalition. The new coalition would presumably be comprised of conservatives, liberals and Greens, the constellation that already has a majority in parliament today. This begs the question, will a new government would be formed with or without new elections?