Ovations and ‘Danke Angie’ as Merkel bows out
Angela Merkel received rapturous applause and a standing ovation lasting 11 minutes from her Christian Democrats after marking the end of 18 years as party leader with an emotional speech in which she said she had been honoured to serve them.
Merkel, 64, fought back tears as CDU delegates applauded amid cries of “Danke Angie”. Delegates held posters stating: “Thanks boss, for 18 years of leadership.”
Admitting she had sometimes been an “infuriating” leader, “driving some to distraction with my last-minute decision-making” – a reference to her controversial decision to open Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees – Merkel said it was now time for the CDU to “embark on a new chapter”. She urged the party to ensure it was “well-equipped, motivated and united” to face the future.
Merkel had refused to publicly endorse any candidate as her successor. But she pointedly used her 30-minute valediction to praise Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer for taking the CDU to a 40% victory in the state of Saarland last year, when she was leader of the state, and added: “We have the strength to break trends, to win elections, if we fight together and decisively.”
Ahead of the competing trio presenting themselves to delegates, leading party members who had previously been deeply critical of Merkel heaped praise on her in speeches that acknowledged her profound impact on modernising the CDU almost beyond recognition from a deeply conservative to a solidly centrist force.
For the past few days German television has repeatedly replayed highlights from Merkel’s time as leader, including footage of her acceptance speech in 2000, when she appeared almost embarrassed to be taking on the role of the leader of one of Europe’s most powerful conservative forces. She became chancellor five years later.
Merkel has expressed her determination to stay on as chancellor for the remaining three years of her term; 56% of Germans support her decision.
Her reason not to stand for reelection as head of the party is seen as strategic, allowing the CDU – which she joined at 35 following the collapse of the Berlin Wall – to recalibrate and prepare for the next election.
The process marked the first time since 1971 that the party has been able to vote for a new leader. Most decisions have been made in backroom deals in which members have had little say.