German chancellor Angela Merkel has confirmed that she plans to step down as leader of her conservative party after 18 years, but said she will remain German chancellor for the rest of the current parliamentary term.
Merkel’s announcement comes after the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) haemorrhaged support in a vote in the western state of Hesse at the weekend.
The 64-year-old currently governs Germany in a “grand coalition” of what traditionally have been the country’s biggest parties — the CDU, its sister party in Bavaria, the Christian Social Union, and the Social Democrats.
Sunday’s election in Hesse also saw the centre-left Social Democrats lose significant ground, while there were gains for both the Greens and the far-right Alternative for Germany.
Merkel’s party managed an unimpressive win, narrowly salvaging a majority for its regional governing coalition with the Greens.
The debacle followed a battering in a state election in Bavaria two weeks ago for the CSU and the Social Democrats.
Merkel, who has led the CDU since 2000 and has been Germany’s chancellor since 2005, has confirmed that she will not seek any other political office after the current parliamentary term ends in 2021.
She said she sees “many more opportunities than risks” in her plan to hand over the leadership of her party at a December conference.
Merkel added that she ultimately bears the responsibility for her fourth-term government’s poor start, and acknowledged there need to be changes. She said it is “time to start a new chapter”.
Merkel has loomed large on the European stage since 2005, helping guide the EU through the euro zone crisis and opening Germany’s doors to migrants fleeing war in the Middle East in 2015 – a move that still divides the bloc.
The announcement, which effectively accelerates the process for the CDU to settle on Merkel’s successor, caused the euro currency to fall briefly, and German government bond yields rose.