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When Merkel leaves office, she will exit as both one of the most admired and most successful world leaders in a time of increasing global discord. This means, when Merkel steps down next year, whoever wins the chancellorship will have big shoes to fill.
In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is more trusted than any other world leader. That is according to a Pew Research Center survey from October 2020 that found 76% of people from 13 European countries have confidence in her, as compared to 64% for French President Emmanuel Macron, 48% for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and only 16% for United States President Donald Trump.
Merkel benefited from her response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but her approval rating in Germany across her 15 years in the position has rarely dipped below 70% and is currently at its second-highest level ever.
Merkel has been called the “leader of the free world” (a term often reserved for the US president) and the “de facto leader of Europe.” She topped Forbes Magazine’s list of most powerful women in 2020 and was ranked the fourth most powerful person in the world in 2018.
Her time as chancellor has had its share of rough patches, in particular the European debt crisis, precipitated by Greece’s financial crisis in 2008, and the 2015 migrant crisis in which an influx of refugees from Syria, Egypt and other countries overwhelmed Germany and the European Union.
Nevertheless, as she leaves office, she will exit as both one of the most admired and most successful world leaders in a time of increasing global discord. This means, when Merkel steps down next year, whoever wins the chancellorship will have big shoes to fill.
Who is Angela Merkel?
Angela Dorothea Kasner was born in Hamburg, West Germany, in July 1954. She grew up in East Germany after her father, Horst Kasner, became a church pastor in Brandenburg. Her mother, Herlind Kasner, was a Latin and English teacher.
While studying physics at Karl Marx University (now the University of Leipzig), Kasner met the man who would become her first husband, Ulrich Merkel. The two were married from 1977 to 1982, but Angela kept Ulrich’s last name after they separated.
Merkel went on to study and teach at the Central Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in East Berlin, where she completed a doctorate in quantum chemistry.
Merkel’s entrance into politics coincided with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent reunification of Germany. She served as the spokesperson for the Democratic Awakening, which had a conservative political leaning. It later joined with two other German political parties, the conservative German Social Union (DSU) and the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
In December 1990, Merkel won a seat in Germany’s lower house of parliament, known as the Bundestag. It was the first election to be held after reunification and it would begin a more than 30-year career in politics.
She was noticed immediately by then-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, leader of the CDU, who appointed her as the Minister for Women and Youth in his cabinet. By the end of 1991, Merkel was the deputy chairman of the CDU. She continued her rise in the government, becoming the Minister of Environment and Nuclear Safety in 1994.
In 1998, Kohl lost the chancellorship and Merkel left the cabinet. However, she then became the general secretary of the CDU, followed two years later by a rise to chairperson of the party. She held that position until 2018, when she stepped down.
In 2002, the CDU opted not to run Merkel for chancellor, though she had hoped they would. The party lost that election. Following their loss, Merkel became the party leader.
She would finally get her shot at the chancellorship in 2005 when the sitting chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), called for an early general election. Supported by a coalition of the CDU and the Christian Social Union (CSU), Merkel became the chancellor.
In 2018, after 13 years as chancellor, along with stepping down as the leader of her party, Merkel announced she would not be running for reelection in 2021. Germany will hold its next election on September 26, 2021, at which time Merkel’s successor will be chosen and she will end her 16-year career as one of the most powerful leaders in the world.
Merkel is currently married to Joachim Sauer, a quantum chemist. They married in 1998.
Who will replace Angela Merkel?
After Merkel stepped down as the chair of the CDU in 2018, she was replaced by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. Kramp-Karrenbauer is not running for reelection in 2021, so the party will choose her successor early next year. The current candidates are Armin Laschet, Friedrich Merz and Norbert Röttgen.
Whoever becomes the party’s next chairperson will be the presumptive candidate for chancellor in the next parliamentary election.
In October, Reuters reported that Laschet was considered the front-runner to be the candidate in the 2021 election. Laschet, who is a centrist, is currently the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous of Germany’s 16 states. His front-runner status is based on the perception that he will become the next CDU chairperson.
Reuters says Laschet’s chief rival is Merz, who The Guardian called the front-runner to lead the party back in 2018. Merz, a lawyer and politician, is a multimillionaire who has been described as the “anti-Merkel.” He was the leader of the CDU from 2000 to 2002, prior to Merkel taking on the role. Also, like Merkel, Merz served in the Bundestag, but left office in 2009.
Merz’s great wealth, which includes two private jets, is considered a detriment to his chances of winning both the CDU chairmanship and the chancellorship.
Röttgen is also a lawyer and politician. He has served in the Bundestag since 1994 and previously served as the Minister for the Environment and Nuclear Safety. In 2001, Röttgen completed a Ph.D. in law at the University of Bonn. He has been described as a foreign policy expert, but even though he has been with the party since the 1980s, he is considered an outsider in the race.
The CDU/CSU alliance has traditionally done well in recent elections, but there are a few other political parties in Germany that could challenge them for the chancellorship.
Those parties include the center-left SPD, the environment-focused Alliance 90/The Greens (generally known as the Green Party), the communist-supported Left Party, the right-wing nationalist Alternative for Germany (or AfD) and the neoliberal Free Democratic Party.
The candidates to represent each party as a potential chancellor are not yet known, though in August, Germany’s current finance minister, Olaf Scholz, was chosen by the SPD to be their candidate. The SPD received the second most votes in the previous parliamentary election, which was held in 2017.
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