MUNICH, Germany — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has stepped down after 16 years at the helm of Europe’s largest economy to be replaced by her caretaker right-hand man, Peter Altmaier, who will form a government and lead the next four years of its historic economic transition.
Mr. Altmaier, a Harvard-educated former economics minister, announced his resignation Monday as Merkel’s strategy chief with a Twitter post, a month after German voters gave her party a new, testy mandate.
Merkel’s decision to give Mr. Altmaier the role of chancellor, a largely ceremonial position, when she steps down at the end of the month came as an unexpected and major surprise, signaling her complete trust in the 48-year-old and changing Germany’s agenda.
A spokesman for Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said in a statement that Mr. Altmaier would remain at the party’s helm through the election.
The switch means there is no imminent transition to another coalition in Germany, a stalemate that would have triggered Germany’s third election in two years and likely set the EU back.
“It was my desire and that of the party that Peter Altmaier take over the role of chancellor,” Merkel said, according to a statement.
Altmaier will formally take over as premier on Feb. 25, when Mr. Merkel officially resigns and is sworn in as Germany’s ninth female chancellor.
“As chancellor Peter Altmaier will lead the successful transition of government from one to another, in connection with a solid start for the next four years of the German state,” the statement said.
No political party is set to win an outright majority in Germany’s federal election on Sept. 24.
Under Merkel, Germany has enjoyed its longest period of economic growth since reunification in 1990. More than 12 million new jobs have been created since she took office, and Germany’s unemployment rate hit a two-decade low of 4.6 percent in November.
But the state of the Social Democrats, the main opposition party, means there is no clear majority for Merkel’s creation in parliament.
“Peter Altmaier is outstanding. He is well-respected across the political spectrum,” said Hubertus Heil, a former vice chancellor who now heads the FDP party.
“He is serious, he is pragmatic, he knows where he stands in Merkel’s government,” he said.
During Merkel’s tenure, Germany’s most important issues were pushing through financial market reforms designed to tame the market forces that triggered the 2008 financial crisis, presiding over the Brexit negotiations, and developing Britain’s post-Brexit trade relationship with the European Union.
Merkel, who has run Germany since 2005, said she will attend some of Merkel’s speeches at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week and travel to London to see her own new prime minister, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Netherlands’ former chair of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers.
Merkel said she will not keep the mandate as she seeks to protect Germany’s top economy from being weakened by Brexit, election crises in Italy and Greece, and negotiations with the European Union on forming a European market reform deal.
“I am very happy that my service to the chancellor will continue to be on top of the negotiations as the finance minister in the next government,” she said.
Merkel said she would continue her work for social dialogue with other European countries, especially in border talks, but said she would focus on stimulating economic growth in Germany, the bloc’s biggest economy.
“I have a completely free time,” she said.