She had kept her party and country in suspense for months, promising only to make a decision at the “appropriate time.” In the end, the decision came quicker than expected. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday confirmed she will seek a fourth term as chancellor in federal elections next September, risking a political legacy under threat by the same populist forces at work elsewhere in the world.
“The appropriate time has arrived,” she said in a press conference Sunday evening, in characteristic understatement. Her decision to continue serving the country was ”anything but trivial, either for the country, for the party…or for me personally,” she said.
While her decision was widely anticipated outside of Germany, where the 62-year-old former East German physicist is considered the anchor of a deeply-divided Europe, Ms. Merkel’s announcement put to rest persistent speculation at home that she may suddenly step down amid rising criticism of her handling of the refugee crisis, and a string of unflattering state election setbacks.
In remarks at her party’s Berlin headquarters near the Tiergarten park, Ms. Merkel said her decision to run again had to do in part with a desire to fight for liberal values that she said are under “unprecedented” attack, especially from right-wing groups. Both Europe and the international community is faced with “challenges to our values and our interests, and quite simply for our way of life,” she said.
Her remarks came two days after a poignant last meeting with the visiting U.S. president, Barack Obama, whose own liberal legacy is under threat in the United States following the election victory of the New York real estate baron, Donald Trump. Responding to questions from the media, Ms. Merkel said her willingness to seek a fourth term — which, if completed, would qualify her with Helmut Kohl as Germany’s longest-serving chancellor – actually had more to do with keeping Germany competitive as Europe’s largest economy and helping it navigate a digital revolution she said was as profound as the one that followed the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press.
“I want to serve Germany,” Ms. Merkel said.
If her CDU party wins next September, Ms. Merkel, who has been in power since 2005 and has led her conservative party coalition since 2000, will have a chance to profoundly shape the modern face of Germany, as the nation seeks to assume a growing leadership role in Europe at a time of increasing fragmentation and rising right-wing populism in many of its neighbors.