Merkel Successor Unexpectedly Resigns As CDU Leader In Latest Shock To Germany's Political Establishment

Following a series of reports in the German and broader European press claiming her imminent resignation, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer - better known as AKK - has confirmed that the rumors are indeed true. She will step down as the leader of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the center-right party that has ruled Germany for two decades, and won't run as the party's candidate to succeed Merkel during the federal election to pick Germany's next chief executive in 2021.

AKK reportedly resigned in protest over flirtations by the party's conservative wing to ally with Alternative für Deutschland, or the AfD, to achieve common political aims.

The centrists in the CDU, including Merkel herself, have denounced the AfD as a far-right borderline hate group populated by Nazi sympathizers. Meanwhile, AfD's leaders have taken steps to expel Nazi sympathizers and others who might alienate the general German public.

AKK & Angela Merkel

This political fracture was recently exacerbated by CDU members in East Germany, the formerly Communist region where the AfD's popularity is at its highest, who recently allied with AfD members to oust the left-wing premier of Thuringia. Merkel criticized the decision, which provoked general outrage throughout Germany.

Now, the FT says the race to succeed Merkel has been "thrown wide open."

Not that this is that big of a surprise. We've been reporting on the increasingly strained relationship between AKK and her one-time political mentor for nearly a year, a feud that supposedly inspired Merkel's decision to come out of retirement and once again play a more active role inside the CDU after handing the reins to AKK. Merkel now reportedly doubts AKK's ability to lead Germany, as well as the CDU.

A series of gaffes and political missteps have also eroded AKK's popularity over the last year. She has reportedly lost her status as a "shoo-in" for the chancellorship, according to the FT.

"Her mistakes just kept piling up," said Olav Gutting, a CDU MP who is in the party’s governing council. "People like her a lot as a person, but the grass roots had growing doubts about her fitness for the highest office."

Germany's next national election is now expected to be a three-way race between Armin Laschet, prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, German Health Minister Jens Spahn and former CDU leader Friedrich Merz, a longtime conservative rival to Merkel, whose reign has been defined by a sense of pragmatic centrism.

Should Merz or Spahn prevail (both men are considered conservatives) it would mark a serious moment of transition not only for the CDU, but for Germany's government as a whole. There are many within Germany who would like the CDU to return to its conservative roots and work more closely with AfD.

For now, at least, those voices appear to be winning out against Germany's established political elite.