German President Joachim Gauck said on Monday he would not serve a second five-year term, a decision that could trigger a battle between the parties in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition over who should succeed him.
Although the position of president is largely ceremonial in Germany, the selection of the last two heads of state has caused problems for Merkel and it risks dividing her government in the run-up to the next federal election in 2017.
Merkel initially opposed the appointment of Gauck, a 76-year-old Lutheran pastor who played an important role in the peaceful protests in communist East Germany that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
But she was forced to accept him when other parties, including her coalition partner at the time, the Free Democrats (FDP), came together and backed him. Her previous choice for the post, conservative politician Christian Wulff, was forced to resign in 2012 in a financial favours scandal.
There was broad cross-party support for Gauck to serve a second term, but he said on Monday that his age had been a factor in the decision, which he described as “not easy.”
“I’m thankful that I’m well but at the same time I’m aware that the period between the 77th and 82nd year of one’s life is different to the one in which I find myself now,” he said, speaking at Bellevue presidential palace in Berlin.
“I don’t want to presume an energy and vitality for another five years that I can’t guarantee,” he said.