A cloud has gathered over Europe as its most influential leader prepares to hang up her boots. It has certainly not been a lucky 13th year in office for Dr Angela Merkel, who was forced into making two key concessions over the course of last week: that her fourth term as German Chancellor would be her last, and that she would step down next month as the leader of the country's most powerful party. The announcements came after Dr Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and its allied parties received stinging setbacks in two consecutive regional elections. She has vowed to restore the "loss of trust in politics".
It is a tall order, calling for nothing less than a metamorphosis of her party. Her goodwill appears spent, there is no clear successor in sight and, worse, her centre-right party is bereft of new ideas to combat persistent encroachment from the more liberal Greens and the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD). Such is the disquiet about the once rock-steady Chancellor that it is by no means certain that Dr Merkel will last until 2021, the end of her term. The longevity of the ruling coalition is as tenuous, sagging to a breaking point, as partners reckon with their own crises of confidence. The centre-left Social Democratic Party may pull out and trigger a fresh election, although the prospect of facing voters conjures up nothing but dread for all of Germany's big-tent parties.