BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday she did not expect her global influence to be diminished in the run-up to her planned exit from politics in 2021, even as the race to succeed her gathered pace.
Merkel said Monday she would not stand for re-election in December as leader of her centre-right CDU party, but that she planned to see out her fourth term as German leader.
The transition period set by Merkel is however a long time in politics, and even CDU heavyweights are publicly voicing doubts on whether she can hold on to power until the end of her mandate.
Despite the uncertainties, Merkel, 64, insisted that she would not be hamstrung on the world stage.
“I think that nothing will change in my bargaining position in international negotiations,” the veteran leader said.
“One might even say that I now have more time to concentrate on my tasks as government leader,” she said, given that she would no longer be CDU party chief from December.
Analysts are not so sure.
Lueder Gerken from the Center for European Politics said that after announcing her decision, “the chancellor will hardly be able to convince the world that she can continue to be the guarantor of a certain degree of stability in the EU.”
Observers also note that she is no longer the master of Germany’s political calendar.
“Whether Merkel will really govern as chancellor until 2021 and then leave politics as promised, or whether the events would suddenly become uncontrollable for her, is no longer up to her alone,” said news weekly Der Spiegel.
Wolfgang Schaeuble, Bundestag president and former finance minister, noted that “there are three years to go in the legislature period. We will see if that will really be the case.
“She is maybe now no longer as strong as (she was) at the peak of her success,” Schaeuble added in an interview with public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Sharks are circling
A key determining factor would be who ends up taking over from “the eternal chancellor”, in power for 13 years and at the helm of her party for 18.
Three candidates have revealed plans to stand for the job, including CDU general secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, health minister Jens Spahn and former chief of the party’s parliamentary group Friedrich Merz.
Announcing his candidacy on Tuesday, Merz, 62, said: “We need a new departure and renewal with experienced and younger leaders.”
Another name touted by German media is Armin Laschet, a Merkel ally who is also the state premier of Germany’s most populous region North Rhine-Westphalia.
Spiegel magazine said if Kramp-Karrenbauer wins the race, “then Merkel’s chances at staying in power are good.”
But if a critic like Spahn or Merz gets the top job, “then Merkel’s chancellorship will likely be over more quickly.”
It is clear that the sharks are circling.
According to Bild daily, five CDU heavyweights have plotted for weeks against Merkel.
The group had planned to hold talks to get Merkel to leave if she failed to do so at her own initiative after the regional vote in the state of Hesse, said Bild, without naming its sources.
As it turned out, Merkel announced her decision a day after the CDU was hammered in the Hesse election.
She has said she would not put her thumb on the scale for any candidate, but “will accept any democratic decision taken by my party.”
Merkel long enjoyed the support of Germans as a guarantor of stability and prosperity.
But her power has been on the wane since her 2015 decision to keep Germany’s borders open at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis, ultimately allowing in more than one million asylum seekers.
The mass arrivals left a deep rift in German society, and fuelled the rise of the far-right AfD, fundamentally redrawing the political map.
Besides the CDU internal power struggle that could determine her future, her departure could also be precipitated if a junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, pulls the plug prematurely.
The SPD will review by autumn 2019 “whether this government is still the right place for us”, party chief Andrea Nahles said.