German Chancellor Angela Merkel will begin her sixth term as chancellor on Wednesday as leader of the Christian Democratic Union and head of the conservative bloc, but she will be succeeded after 16 years as party leader by a little-known opposition figure who specializes in European economic affairs.
The CDU named Olaf Scholz of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as its new chairman on Sunday, a step that carries with it not only the tasks of chairing a party, but also the full trust of the German people.
Scholz, 65, is taking the reins of the center-right CDU at a critical time. The populist, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, founded by anti-euro anarchists and budget hawks, has almost tripled its score in last year’s federal election. With a 14.8 percent share of the vote, it now presents one of the biggest threats to the CDU’s status as the country’s top political force. And while Merkel will remain Chancellor, the key decisions remain up in the air. Merkel, who just turned 59, has yet to confirm if she will seek a fourth term in 2021.
The political upheaval reached a new high this week when Dietmar Bartsch, the leader of Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, made headlines when he accused her of leading Germany “into the abyss.” Although Merkel rejected the accusation, she insisted that she was open to helping her partners escape the eurozone crisis, which is why her initial decision to help Greece out has been the reason for her downfall.
“We would never call out someone’s entire life for criticism,” Merkel told the Bild newspaper, according to Associated Press. “But Dietmar is an important partner for me in solving issues.”