DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will not seek another term as chancellor and will also not seek re-election as head of her Christian Democratic Party. That is a post she has held for 18 years. And the decision to step aside signals the beginning of the end of Merkel's political career and tenure as the most powerful woman in European politics. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is one of our correspondents based in Europe. She has covered much of Merkel's political career and joins me now. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: So a significant moment here. Merkel speaking to the nation about her decision. What is she saying?
NELSON: She sounded very steady, and she looked a little sad. But she said that, as she said before, she was not born chancellor, that it has been a daily honor but also a daily challenge to serve as chancellor for the past 13 years and as head of her party for the last 18. But that it was time to move aside, to listen to what citizens had to say. And that is that they have a lack of faith in her government. And so she's stepping aside to make room for the next generation.
GREENE: Well, I feel like you and I have talked countless times about Merkel and some of the challenges and calling her at times embattled. I mean, she and her government have been in trouble since she was welcoming refugees to Germany in large numbers back in 2015, right? So why is - why have we arrived at this moment now? What's different?
NELSON: Well, there's been a steady chipping away at her support basically on a national level but also in regional elections. This has really dogged her and her party and her allies, especially - the most recent ones we can talk about were last night's election - or yesterday's election, I should say, in Hesse, which is where Frankfurt is, the big financial center, and also two weeks before in Bavaria. Some serious losses where in last night's or - the count basically - her party barely is hanging onto power with a coalition of greens. And in Bavaria, they - I mean, it's also really shaken up the Bavarian allies of Mrs. Merkel, which are the Christian Social Union members - the Bavarian conservatives, if you will.
GREENE: Soraya, I mean, she's been so central to European politics. It's hard to imagine European politics without her. I mean, what is the reaction so far to this decision?
NELSON: Well, the stocks have gone down. I mean, this is something that's definitely going to send a very strong ripple effect across Europe. People are - they knew this was coming. But again, she had never announced it until today. So this is going to make it very difficult for Brussels, for example, to push through its plans to try and integrate the union more. This is probably not going to help the Brexit situation - those negotiations that are going on. I mean, she is the strongest leader there. And she's also been someone who's helped forge consensus. And she's in an incredibly weakened position now even though technically what she's saying is this isn't going to happen until 2021. You know, she's not going to seek re-election until - in 2021 and that she's basically going to remain in power until then. But she's a lame duck at this point.
GREENE: Any talk of who her likely successor might be?
NELSON: Well, even though she hasn't really said who she wants, what political insiders have told various media is her - the CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. She's a 56-year-old who's - someone who many would like to see take her place. But there are also other people like the health minister, who's much more conservative and actually a good friend of the U.S. ambassador to Berlin, and also a political opponent of her's, Friedrich Merz, who has not been into politics for a while now. So yeah. So they're - it's a big open question mark as to who's next.
GREENE: All right. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson on this big announcement from Angela Merkel. Soraya, thanks as always.
NELSON: You're welcome, David.
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