German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led her country with a stalwart determination for the past 13 years. But now it seems this is coming to an end, with the announcement she will not contest the leadership of her party in December this year and will retire from politics in 2021.
For the most part she has been a highly successful leader, with only the last few years proving to unwind her vice-like grip on the Chancellory. Although German’s are deeply fond of Merkel, there is widespread agreement that she has made the right decision to step down.
Whoever replaces Ms Merkel will have a strong role to play within the European Union and the EU will be looking closely to see which candidate comes out on top as it assesses who may be a friend, and who may be a foe.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is the favourite to succeed Merkel and is Merkel’s personal choice. She is currently the General Secretary of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), after being placed in that position by Merkel.
She was premier of the tiny state of Saarland on the French border from 2011 to 2018.
While socially conservative and known for opposing gay marriage, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is also a strong supporter of the minimum wage and workers’ rights.
In a move that has been seen as a distancing from Merkel, Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer has said the CDU will need to regain some passion if it wants to attract younger voters.
Jens Spahn, has become one of Ms Merkel’s most outspoken critics within the CDU since her decision in 2015 to welcome more than a million refugees, mostly Muslims from war zones in the Middle East.
A member of the lower house of parliament since 2002, Mr Spahn has been praised as a rising star for years by senior conservatives such as Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Nevertheless, his anti-immigration rhetoric at the height of the refugee crisis cost him sympathy among Ms Merkel’s allies.
Mr Spahn is a Catholic like Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer but, despite the church’s opposition to gay partnerships, is married to Daniel Funke, a senior journalist at the magazine Bunte.
Friedrich Merz, 62, was the first to throw his hat into the ring after news leaked that Ms Merkel would not run again as CDU leader, according to party sources.
A member of the conservative wing of the CDU, Merz has coined the idea of a German ‘Leitkultur’, or ‘lead culture’, with which he called on Muslim immigrants to assimilate and to adopt German values and traditions.
He is also known for his proposal to simplify the annual tax return so that it could be written on a beer mat.
Mr Merz is among the many conservative men who have seen their political fortunes dwindle under Ms Merkel.
A trained lawyer and former member of the European Parliament, Mr Merz served in the German parliament from 1994 to 2009, and now holds numerous non-executive company board positions, including chairman of the German arm of the US hedge fund BlackRock.
The current parliamentary group leader of the CDU/CSU in the German Bundestag, where he swooped in from the middle of nowhere, Ralph Brinkhaus has often been underestimated in German politics.
Although he has a relatively low public profile, he is known to be a conservative within the CDU, voting against same-sex marriage.
Brinkhaus has been a member of the German Bundestag since the 2009 elections, succeeding Hubert Deittert. From 2009 until 2013, he served on the Finance Committee, where he was his parliamentary group’s rapporteur on banks and insurances. From 2014, he was part of the group’s leadership under chairman Volker Kauder. In this capacity, he was the group’s main spokesman for budgetary and financial issues.
He has spent his time since 2009 building a reputation as an able consensus builder and finance expert, which has earned him a strong reputation on all sides and untainted by the grand coalition.
Whoever it may be, the implications will be widespread for the EU. Whilst Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer may be the top choice for Ms Merkel and the EU, the CDU may feel otherwise and may feel the need to slide back commitments for the United States of Europe.