Merkel crisis: Chancellor's blunders make 2021 departure inevitable – 'Voters lost faith'

Mrs Merkel, in the spotlight after Germany assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union at a critical time for the bloc, has not been leader of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party since 2018 – but has nevertheless vowed to continue as Chancellor until 2021. The 66-year-old remains an enormously powerful leader, and last week the newspaper Bild suggested she might be persuaded to change her mind in a story headlined ‘Fifth term because of Corona?’ in reference to the ongoing pandemic and Mrs Merkel’s response to it.

However, Hans-Olaf Henkel, a former German MEP, told such a move would be impossible.

He said: “Merkel decided to step down as party leader after a series of disastrous election results.

“In fact under her the CDU shrank to the lowest levels ever in the last Federal elections 2017.”

Mr Henkel, who stepped down from the assembly last year, explained: “Merkel lost the faith of an increasing number of German voters because of moving the CDU more and more to the left.

“This resulted on one hand in a severe crisis of the Social Democrats, who often saw their program taken over by the CDU and in the upsurge of the right wing AFD, who obtained a lot of votes from disenchanted CDU voters.”

Mr Henkel highlighted specific issues which he said had undermined Mrs Merkel’s authority.

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“It not only made over a million refugees enter Germany without knowing who they were, where they came from and why they came, it saved the AfD from disappearing from the political landscape.”

Mr Henkel quit the AfD in 2015, believing it had shifted too far to the right, after which it consistently failed to rise above five percent in the opinion polls.

He said: “Most pollsters, the media and the remaining leadership of the AfD saw the party disappearing. But when after September 5, 2015, hundreds and thousands streamed into Germany, the party’s popularity exploded. She saved the AfD!”

The internal machinations of the CDU, and Mrs Merkel’s involvement in them, had complicated matters still further, Mr Henkel said.

He explained: “She made sure that her internal political arch-enemy, Friedrich Merz, narrowly lost the fight to replace her as party leader against Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in 2019.

“However Kramp-Karrenbauer could not get the CDU up neither in the polls nor in state elections which made her also announcing that she would resign from party leadership opening the race for successions again.

“The party leadership was supposed to have been decided already.

“However, because of corona the process could not be completed.

“Currently, the plan is to have the party decide on the new leader by December 2020.”

Speaking to the Sunday Times about the possibility of Mrs Merkel carrying on, Thorsten Benner of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, said: “Germans would quickly sour on this.

“They are anxious about the economy, sure, but they’re ready to turn a page.

“And there’s a generation of men who think it’s their turn to take over.”

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