German Chancellor Stepping Down as CDU Leader

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is stepping down after 18 years as the party leader of the center-right Christian Democratic Union.

In her farewell speech at the CDU congress Friday in Hamburg, Merkel thanked her staff and said the party “is never just one person by him or herself, but always all members together.”

Merkel reminded her fellow party members that experience has shown “how much strength and momentum we can develop” when faced with difficulties.

During her half-hour speech she received several standing ovations. Some delegates held up placards saying, “Thank you, boss!”

Merkel announced in October she would not run for re-election as the party chairperson, but she planned to remain chancellor until the end of the current term ending in 2021. However, it is possible that elections could be called before then.

Merkel, 64, is stepping down after a series of polls have shown a decline in popularity because of her liberal refugee policy.

The two main contenders for the leadership post are CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), 56, and corporate lawyer Friedrich Merz, 63.

A third candidate, Health Minister Jens Spahn, 38, an outspoken critic of Merkel’s 2015 decision to welcome more than 1 million asylum-seekers to Germany, is running a distant third.

Merkel has led Germany since 2005, and has moved the CDU steadily toward the political center.

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