Last Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced something that was both earth-shattering and also not really a surprise: that she will not seek another term as leader of her center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) in December and that this is her last term as chancellor.
It’s almost hard to remember a time before Merkel was a dominant figure on the national stage: she’s led the CDU for 18 years and Germany for 13. But her announcement last week set in motion a process that has the potential to reshape Germany: what happens when Merkel isn’t around?
First, for The Atlantic, Yasmeen Serhan and I looked at how we got here: though Merkel may have survived an extremely politically challenging year in German politics, her downfall truly began last September with her party’s less-than-stellar performance in Germany’s federal elections. Each successive crisis weakened her already waning control over members of her own party, and a state election in Hesse was apparently the final straw. Her departure also sets up what’s sure to be a fierce competition to replace her, one which has already started to take shape; we looked at Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Friedrich Merz and Jens Spahn, the top three contenders for the job.
And second, a few days later, I had a chance to think about what legacy Merkel will leave behind in a piece for NBC News. She’s a paradoxical leader in so many ways, and despite working to cultivate a non-ideological political persona she has become a deeply polarizing figure. Will history remember Merkel for her efforts to combat political chaos and the rise of right-wing populism, or as the leader whose actions helped bring about their success?
I’ll surely be writing on this more on this in the coming weeks and months—stay tuned!