German Chancellor Angela Merkel may not serve her a full term, and could step down early rather than face defeat at the polls, according to a media report.
Merkel had been widely expected to complete her third term as Chancellor - the head of government in Germany – but Der Spiegel magazine reported over the weekend that she could leave the post before elections due in 2017. The article cited cabinet members and senior politicians from Germany's CDU and CSU parties.
If Merkel did step down, she would be the first German Chancellor to do so since 1949. One possible successor could be Ursula von der Leyen, who is currently minister of defense.
The German magazine said Merkel was interested in the role of European Council President, or the Secretary-General of the United Nations, with both roles due to come up in 2017.
Merkel's spokesperson and party colleagues have denied speculation about how long she would stay in office, according to the U.K.'s Daily Telegraph newspaper.
Far from everyone is convinced that Merkel is likely to cut short her time in office, with Nicholas Spiro, managing director of Spiro Sovereign Strategy, saying she was the "least likely" of the European political leaders to stand down.
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"Particularly after her resounding re-election as chancellor last year, and her dominant role in German and European political and economic affairs all indications are that 'Mutti' (Mum) is staying put," he told CNBC.
The reports come on a day when Germany is making headlines for a whole different reason, after beating Argentina 1-0 to win the World Cup trophy. Pictures of Merkel surrounded by the national team are likely to only cement her popularity in Germany further.
The Chancellor received a ringing endorsement from voters in last year's elections, when she promised to serve a full term, winning 311 seats for the CDU party and a bigger share of the vote than in 2009.
Her election pledges centered on a tough stance on austerity for debt-ridden euro zone nations – something of a hot topic in Germany, which is the 18-country group's largest economy – and the biggest contributor to the bailout of peripheral economies like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.
If Merkel steps down sooner than expected, the role of Germany in the euro zone and the broader 28-country European Union would be called into question.
"She has been instrumental in allaying fears about a break-up of the euro zone and, to all intents and purposes, is Europe's chancellor," Spiro added.
"Indeed, given the weakness and unpopularity of other European leaders, with the possible exception of Italian premier Matteo Renzi, a post-Merkel era almost doesn't bear thinking about from a political standpoint."
Merkel has played a prominent role in determining the future of the EU, pushing spendthrift members to tighten their belts, blocking the creation of common debt such as the "Eurobond" and resisting further measures that would jeopardize Germany's economy.
You can read the Der Spiegel article here.