French President Emmanuel Macron would like to replace the German Chancellor. But Europe may be more likely to have no single, central figure.
PARIS – Chancellor Angela Merkel will step down after 16 years as the leading figure in European politics, after the Germans voted on Sunday and formed a new government. This is the moment that French President Emmanuel Macron has been waiting for.
The German chancellor, though credited with overcoming many crises, was long criticized for lacking a strategic vision. Mr Macron, whose more acrimonious style has sometimes baffled his European allies – and Washington – has put forward ideas for a more independent and unified Europe, better able to defend itself and act in its own interests.
But as the Anglo-American “betrayal” in the Australian submarine case has underlined, Mr Macron sometimes has ambitions beyond his reach. Despite Ms Merkel being vacant, the birth of the Macron era is unlikely.
Instead, analysts say the EU is heading towards a period of prolonged uncertainty and potential weakness, if not necessarily drift. No one person – not even Mr Macron or a new German chancellor – would be as influential as Ms Merkel at her strongest, an authoritative, well-informed leader who quietly compromised and loudly and created consensus among the long list. More ideological allies.
This raises the possibility of a paralyzed or Europe grappling with its own challenges – about a disinterested US over China and Russia, and over trade and technology, or even the more dangerous fracture of the bloc’s ever-temporary unity. What to do in
And that would mean that Mr Macron, himself up for re-election in April and embroiled in that precarious campaign, will have to wait for a German government that may not last until January or longer, and then Will have to work with him. A weak German chancellor.
“We will have a weaker German chancellor on top of a larger, less unified coalition,” said Mujtaba Rahman, Europe’s managing director of political risk advisory, Eurasia Group. “A weak chancellor is less able to exert influence in Europe, and then with the Macron election, the political cycles of these two major countries will not sync.”
The uncertainty is likely to remain until after the French parliamentary elections in June – and Mr Macron is believed to have won.
Mr Macron has strongly argued that Europe should do more to protect its interests, where China is moving and the United States is focusing on Asia. His officials are already trying to prepare the ground on some key issues, looking forward to January, when France will take over the rotating EU presidency. But given the prospect of protracted coalition talks in Germany, the chances of achievement are slim.
Mr Macron will need German aid. While France and Germany together can no longer run the EU alone, when they agree, they tend to bring the rest of the bloc with them.
So building a relationship with the German chancellor, even one from the weak, will be a primary goal for Mr Macron. They must be careful, noted Daniela Schwarzer, executive director of Europe and Eurasia of the Open Societies Foundation, not to intimidate the Germans.
“Macron’s leadership is disruptive, and the German style is to progressively change institutions,” she said. “Both sides will need to think about how they make it possible for the other party to respond constructively.”
French officials understand that real change will be slow, and they would like to build on initiatives already underway, such as an analysis of Europe’s interests known as “the”. tactical compass“And a modest but steady increase in military spending on new capabilities through the European Defense Fund and a program called PESCO, which aims to promote joint projects and European interactivity.
After the humiliation of the shattered submarine deal, when Australia abruptly canceled a contract with France and instead chose a deal with Britain and the United States, many of their European allies were now more likely to agree with Mr Macron. that Europe should depend less on Washington and spend at least a little more in its defence.
Some in Europe, however, seek to permanently damage relations with the Americans and NATO.
“Italy wants a strong Europe, right, but in NATO – we are not on the French page on that,” said Marta Dasso, former Italian deputy foreign minister and director of European affairs at the Aspen Institute.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose voice is respected in Brussels, believes strongly in trans-Atlantic relations, adding: “We are closer to Germany than France, but without all the ambiguity on Russia and China. .”
Officials say France wants to become more assertive by using the economic and financial tools Europe already has, especially trade and technology. The issue, he says, is not to move too fast, but to up the European game of China and the United States, and try to encourage a culture that is comfortable with power.
But France’s German partners themselves will be going through a period of uncertainty and transition. A new German chancellor is expected to win only a quarter of the vote, and a coalition agreement between three different political parties may need to be negotiated. This is expected to take at least until Christmas, if not longer.
The chancellor would also need to be up to speed on European issues that barely surfaced in the campaign, and build credibility as a comrade among 26 other leaders.
“So it is important now to start thinking about concrete French-German victories during the French presidency that Macron can use in a positive way in his campaign,” Ms Schwarzer said. “Because Berlin does not want to consider a scenario in which Macron loses” far-right Marine Le Pen or in which Euro-skeptics like Matteo Salvini come to power in Italy.
Whoever wins, German policy towards Europe will remain largely the same as that of a country committed to the ideals of the European Union, cautious and wishing to maintain stability and unity. The real question is whether any European leader can be a uniting force to Ms Merkel – and if not, what this will mean for the future of the continent.
“Merkel herself was instrumental in keeping the European Union together,” said Ulrich Speck of the German Marshall Fund. “She took into account the interests of many people in Europe, especially Central Europe but also in Italy, to keep everyone on board.”
Ms Merkel saw the EU as the core of her policy, said a senior European official, who called her the custodian of true EU values, as evidenced by her support for collective debt, as for collective debt. It is clear from their support. To fund the German Red Line, the Coronavirus Recovery Fund.
“Merkel acted as a mediator when there were a lot of centrifugal forces weakening Europe,” said Thomas Klein-Brockhoff, head of the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund. “It is less clear how the next chancellor will position himself and Germany.”
Nevertheless, Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that “whoever the chancellor is, Germany still accounts for more than half of Chinese trade with Europe.” Germany is “much more important than all other countries. The big issues, from how to handle China to the technological war and climate change,” he said.
This means Mr Macron “knows he has to put German power behind his vision,” he said.
But the position of the French and Italians will also be critical on important pending financial issues, such as financial and banking integration, trying to complete the Single Market and oversight of the Epidemic Recovery Fund.
Ms. Merkel’s departure could provide an opportunity for the kind of change Mr. Macron wants, albeit in a largely miniscule version. Ms Merkel’s love for the status quo, some analysts argue, was chronological at a time when Europe was facing many challenges.
Perhaps most important is the debate whether to change Europe’s spending rules, which practically means compromising countries to spend more on everything from defense to climate.
The real problem is that fundamental change would require a treaty change, said Guntram Wolff, director of the Brussels Research Institute, Bruegel. “You can’t secretly do fiscal and defense integration,” he said. “It will not have validity and will not be accepted by the citizens.”
But the German election debate ignored these broader issues, he said.
“The sad news,” said Mr. Wolfe, “is that none of the three chancellor candidates campaigned on it, so my baseline expectation is going forward.”