Angela Merkel said that in “distinctly difficult, even insecure times”, it was her “duty” to stand again as she said she would seek a fourth term as German chancellor in 2017.
Ms Merkel, who has presided over Europe’s strongest economy since 2005, said last night that she wanted to “fight for our values and our way of life”.
She admitted that Germany had become “polarised”.
The country is struggling with a surge in far-right extremism, domestic terror attacks and an influx of around one million migrants.
“I thought about this for an endlessly long time. The decision (to run) for a fourth term is – after 11 years in office – anything but trivial,” Ms Merkel told a news conference after a meeting of senior members of her conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) party convened to prepare for the election.
Ms Merkel’s announcement came after a draft manifesto outlining her key pledges was widely leaked to German newspapers over the weekend.
The memo, entitled ‘Orientation in difficult times – for a successful Europe’, included several proposals which have been viewed as a shift to the right in a bid to win back support from alienated voters.
They include a ban on wearing the full veil in public court hearings, benefit cuts to migrants who “refuse to integrate” and barring teenage marriages.
“Anyone who refuses to integrate and disregards our rule of law and values must face sanctions, down to benefit cuts and deportation,” one extract reads.
The draft adds that Ms Merkel’s CDU would reach out to those “who see themselves as losers of modernisation and seek shelter in populist parties on both the right and the left.”
Ms Merkel (62), who is widely regarded as the most powerful woman in the world, had presided over Europe’s strongest economy since 2005.
A recent poll found that nearly 60pc of Germans were in favour of her being re-elected, while according to the ‘Suddeutsche Zeitung’, she currently enjoys an approval rating of more than 70pc.
Should she win a fourth term, Ms Merkel would match the post-war record of her mentor, Helmut Kohl, who presided over the country during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Supporters say she would offer much-needed stability to European politics, which has already been rocked by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s shock US election victory.
However, she has also come under intense criticism for her “open door” refugee policy, which saw hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers enter the country in 2015.
Julia Kloeckner, the CDU’s deputy leader, said Ms Merkel represented “stability and reliability in turbulent times because she holds society together and stands up to over-simplification [from populists]”.
“She stands for moderation and centrism instead of cheap headlines,” Ms Klockner told ‘Welt am Sonntag’.
A date is yet to be set for the election but it is expected to take place between August and October.
One major stumbling block for Ms Merkel’s campaign is likely to be the ultra-nationalist Alternative fur Deutschland (Afd) party.
It has seen its popularity rise steadily in Germany and, according to a recent study, is now the country’s third-largest party.
The anti-Islam group, which is represented in 10 state parliaments, has aggressively campaigned against Ms Merkel’s refugee policy, which it says allowed terrorists to slip into the country posing as asylum seekers.
Ms Merkel has steered Europe’s biggest economy through the financial crisis and eurozone debt crisis and has won respect internationally, for example with her efforts to help solve the conflict in Ukraine.
US President Barack Obama last week described her as an “outstanding” ally. (© Daily Telegraph London)