Angela Merkel has said she will seek a fourth term as German chancellor, less than two weeks after Donald Trump’s election in the US left her as the west’s pre-eminent liberal leader.
The German news agency DPA reported that she had told the leadership of her CDU party, which is meeting in Berlin, that she would stand again as a candidate for chancellor and party leader.
The move came days after meetings with world leaders that underscored her importance to an international liberal order rocked by Mr Trump’s unexpected electoral victory and the rise of populist and nationalist parties across Europe.
Last week, Ms Merkel won the endorsement of President Barack Obama, who was in Berlin on the last leg of his final European tour for an informal summit with five EU heads of government. The outgoing president described Ms Merkel as his “closest international partner” and said, albeit in jest, that if he were German he would vote for her.
Even after 11 years in power, Ms Merkel remains one of Germany’s most popular politicians. A poll carried out by Emnid for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper showed 55 per cent of Germans want her to remain as chancellor for a fourth term, up from 42 per cent in August.
But her grip on power has been weakened by popular anger over her decision last year to open Germany’s doors to tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war in the Middle East — a policy that also started a row between the CDU and its more conservative Bavarian sister party, the CSU.
Since the onset of the refugee crisis, both parties have seen support drain away to the Alternative for Germany, a rightwing populist movement fuelled by the same anti-immigrant sentiment that helped to power Mr Trump’s stunning electoral upset and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.
In the eyes of many AfD supporters, Ms Merkel symbolises a remote political establishment that has grown out of touch with the concerns of ordinary voters disillusioned by globalisation, free trade and open borders.
The AFD is now Germany’s third most popular party, according to Emnid, with 13 per cent of the vote. This compares with 33 per cent for the CDU/CSU — down considerably on the 41 per cent they scored in the 2013 election — and 24 per cent for the Social Democrats, junior partner in Ms Merkel’s governing coalition.
With nearly three terms as chancellor behind her, Ms Merkel also finds herself accused of losing her political touch. She suffered a tactical defeat last week over how to fill the largely ceremonial post of president, when she was forced to accept the SPD’s choice of Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the foreign minister.
Ms Merkel has been leader of the CDU since 2000 and chancellor since 2005. If she is re-elected next year and serves out a full term she will become Germany’s longest-serving postwar chancellor, beating Konrad Adenauer, who served for 14 years, and Helmut Kohl, who led the government for 16 years.
During its meeting on Sunday, the CDU also began the process of drawing up an election platform for next year’s campaign which is designed to stop the haemorrhaging of support to the AFD. The party will, for example, say that there will be no repeat of last year’s refugee influx and that it will pursue sanctions against migrants who refuse to integrate into German society.
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