HAMBURG, Germany — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s final speech as leader of her party was met with an 11-minute standing ovation on Friday.
The address marked the beginning of her gradual exit from both German politics and the world stage. Merkel has led the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000, and been the country's chancellor since 2005.
“It is now the time to open a new chapter, it was a great pleasure for me, it was an honor,” Merkel said as she concluded her speech. Delegates held up signs reading: “Thank You, Boss.”
Merkel, 64, later handed the baton to a successor at the party congress in Hamburg.
Merkel also had a message for President Donald Trump, stating that her party had to show its strengths in an age of “growing renunciation of multilateralism” and in times of “reducing international cooperation to the principles of deal-making.”
Judith Hoerning, a 23-year-old delegate, told NBC News that while Merkel had "shaped the party in a good way" she believed her decision to step down was "courageous and right because the party needs transformation now.”
Jens Eckhoff, a 52-year-old delegate from Bremen, said he was happy AKK was elected because he believed she could "help gain voters in the center and can also win against the populists with good arguments."
Germany’s neighbors are already concerned that the departure of Europe’s longest serving leader could weaken the European Union.
“There is still huge respect for Merkel because she gave stability in Europe at a time when things were rocky,” said Judy Dempsey, a nonresident senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank.
Andy Eckardt is a producer based in Mainz, Germany. He started this role in 1994.
Carlo Angerer is a multimedia producer and reporter based in Mainz, Germany.