Following a significant loss of votes in recent regional elections, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced this week that she would step down as leader of her party this year, and as Chancellor in 2021. It is the only correct conclusion from her recent election blow. Attempting to remain would have simply meant continued decline for both her party and her chancellorship. With the renunciation of another run to remain party leader, Merkel takes the pressure away from her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in which fractures were becoming ever clearer.
Merkel herself has received praise from critics within the CDU for making a shrewd decision that can be presented as a prelude to a self-determined departure. Merkel's decision to gradually withdraw from politics has also garnered respect from Germany's neighbouring states. French President Emmanuel Macron described the Chancellor's move on Monday night as "extremely dignified".
However, he has also shown himself to be concerned that Merkel's withdrawal has taken place against the backdrop of strengthening right-wing forces. At a European level, Merkel is the French president's most important ally. The chances of success for Macron’s EU reforms may also be at risk with her departure. Merkel’s departure is also bad news for the EU itself, as she is one of the most pro-European voices of the EU. At a time when Eurosceptic movements are booming, and the UK negotiates Brexit, Merkel’s pro-European view will be sorely missed.
Now begins a period of uncertainty. Europe's right has cheered this announcement. Merkel’s opponents, such as Hungary's head of government Viktor Orbán and Italy's right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini, now see their criticism of Merkel's refugee policy as being totally vindicated. Observers are now expecting a new refugee dispute. Salvini has already mocked Merkel’s imminent departure, whilst calling for a new, more independent Europe.
Uncertainty in Germany is also high, as the fight to replace Merkel begins. The current frontrunner is Friedrich Merz, a brilliant speaker, an economic liberal, and social conservative. He has often accused Merkel of being too hesitant in economic and financial policy. Best known in Germany for his claim that a ‘tax return must fit on a beer mat’, the 62-year-old wants a radically simplified tax system and a pro-business economy. He has been outside of politics since 2009, instead working in the private sector, but his return to attempt to seize the Chancellorship only confirms rumours of his long desire to return to the Reichstag.