Barring an abrupt defenestration of Theresa May, Angela Merkel will quit the helm of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party before May bids farewell to running the Tories on the road to Brexit. It’s a poignant example of how swiftly fortunes can dissolve in the maelstrom of challenges to established parties.
Theoretically, Merkel could remain Chancellor until around 2021, having agreed to cede dominion over her panicking party at a party conference in December. But power divided is inevitably power weakened. The intention to leave office “in instalments”, as one wry German newspaper headline put it, already looks hostage to events that she cannot control.
The same reasons that spurred Merkel’s decision to hand over power — a poor election result last year, a resort to a grand coalition with a rudderless Social Democratic Party and fears that there is still no clear recipe to combat the rise of the far-Right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) — makes a lengthy goodbye tour hard to envisage.
Having witnessed Merkel’s stellar rise from the rubble of the Berlin Wall in the early Nineties to one of the longest-serving German Chancellors, it seems graceless to see her dismissed with haste. But the Chancellor is a realist. At whatever pace it unfolds, the end of the Merkel era marks the epilogue of the post–war era in Germany and Europe. She is the last link to the old East — even her chosen seat at the Cabinet table faces the emblematic television tower of east Berlin.