Germany is beginning to think about life after Angela Merkel, despite a deal which paved the way for her to form a new coalition government.

A visibly exhausted Chancellor appeared before cameras at the weekend to announce that her Christian Democratic Union had reached agreement with her old coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), after marathon talks.

"We will work earnestly, today and through the next term of office, to create the conditions so that we can live well in Germany for the next 10 years, the next 15 years," she said.

But more than half her country do not expect Merkel to see out a full fourth term as chancellor. Some leading voices are saying she should start planning to find a successor.


"Angela Merkel is past her zenith," Oskar Niedermayer of Berlin's Free University told Handelsblatt newspaper. "In the interest of her party's electoral strength, she should not stay in office for the entire legislative term."

Saturday's deal with the SPD comes months after September's elections in which Merkel suffered damaging losses, and follows the collapse of coalition talks with smaller parties. It is the longest it has taken Germany to have a new government formed in its postwar history.

Merkel is still not out of the woods. The deal is only an agreement to begin formal coalition negotiations, and it has yet to be approved by delegates at an SPD party convention next weekend.

Most observers believe Merkel will get her new coalition. But so far it has received a lukewarm reception from the German electorate. Spiegel magazine described it as a "paleo-coalition" of political dinosaurs.

Veteran Merkel watchers are keeping an eye on Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the regional Prime Minister of Saarland state and increasingly seen of late as the chancellor's preferred successor. If she is brought to Berlin, it could mean Merkel is getting ready to go.