Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said on Monday she would not seek re-election as party chairwoman and that her fourth term as chancellor would be her last in political office.
This signals the end of a 13-year era in which she has dominated European politics.
Her decision to step down as chairwoman comes after her party suffered heavy losses in its second regional election in as many weeks.
Mrs Merkel made the announcement a day after Sunday’s vote in the state of Hesse, at which the CDU came first but slipped in support from the last election there in 2013.
Mrs Merkel, 64, has been chairwoman of her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) since 2000 and chancellor since 2005.
“I have the firm feeling that today the time has come to open a new chapter,” Mrs Merkel, looking serious but calm, told reporters in Berlin after a meeting of the CDU’s leadership.
Drawing the consequences of the CDU’s weak result in Hesse and dissatisfaction with her coalition, she said: “Firstly, at the next CDU party congress in December in Hamburg, I will not put myself forward again as candidate for the CDU chair.”
“Secondly, this fourth term is my last as German chancellor. At the federal election in 2021, I will not stand,” she added.
The move sets in motion the process for the CDU to search for Mrs Merkel’s successor. It caused the euro to fall briefly and German government bond yields rose.
Stepping down as CDU chairwoman further undermines Mrs Merkel’s authority, as she had previously said the party chair and chancellery should be held by the same person.
Her authority has already been questioned this year by the two regional election setbacks and a close ally losing his role as leader of her conservatives’ parliamentary group.