Ova­tions and ‘Danke Angie’ as Merkel bows out

The Guardian - - WORLD - Kate Con­nolly

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.

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