Can someone replace Angela Merkel? – POLITICS
Paul Taylor, Contributing Editor of POLITICS, writes the column “Europe At Large”.
PARIS – Like a rudderless ship, the European Union has entered a dangerous period of drifting through tumultuous waters with no obvious captain to follow the imminent departure of its de facto leader of the past 15 years, Angela Merkel.
The veteran German chancellor, who will not stand for re-election in September, is already more than halfway out. A year after negotiating a landmark deal on a € 750 billion European stimulus fund, Merkel’s decline in authority was highlighted at a European Council summit late last month, when she failed to persuade his fellow leaders to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
His departure leaves a big hole. No other European personality has his political weight, his experience and his negotiating skills, leaving the heavy union of 27 nations at the risk of paralysis and disunity.
French President Emmanuel Macron, a Duracell bunny of energy and activism on the European stage, would like to fill the leadership void. But it arouses too much suspicion and hostility in central and northern Europe, because of its relations with Moscow and its desire for greater trade protection. In addition, France does not have the economic clout of Germany and Macron faces his own uncertain elections next April.
In the European institutions, the President of the European Council Charles Michel is widely regarded as a light weight without the intellectual depth or diplomatic mastery of his fellow Belgian precursor, Herman Van Rompuy. And the EU’s efforts under Commission Chair Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell to become more of a geopolitical actor have been humiliated by Russia, snubbed by Turkey, largely ignored by China and overshadowed by the return of American leadership under President Joe Biden.
Von der Leyen has also struggled to convince governments to give Brussels more power over public health policy, despite the collective COVID-19 response.
At another time, the British Prime Minister could have filled the void. But while Brexit has made it easier for the EU to decide on certain issues, such as defense cooperation or the issuance of common debt, it has also deprived the EU of one of its three heavyweights endowed with ‘a military power, with diplomatic reach and a dynamic knowledge economy.
This mostly leaves smaller fish. It is not without precedent. Longtime members of the European Council have traditionally wielded influence far beyond the size of their country – think Jean-Claude Juncker when he was Prime Minister of Luxembourg or, further afield, Bertie Ahern when he was the Taoiseach Irish. But when Merkel leaves, the two oldest European leaders will be Dutchman Mark Rutte and Hungarian Viktor Orbán. Neither is suitable.
Rutte is an interim prime minister stuck in endless coalition negotiations, and he’s too outspoken and frugal a hawk to command a large audience. Domestic constraints force him to be more Eurosceptic than he is. Orbán is an outcast in much of the EU for his capture of the state, his violations of the rule of law and media freedom and his ideology of “illiberal democracy”.
Moreover, neither of these deans is a member of the largest and traditionally most powerful patronage machine in European politics: the center-right European People’s Party (EPP). Macron neither moreover, which is another handicap on his ability to lead.
Many analysts have attributed Merkel’s dominance to Germany’s role as Europe’s main treasurer. This undoubtedly underpinned the authority of the ‘queen of the top’, as did the willingness of former Chancellor Helmut Kohl to sign checks in order to break an EU deadlock in the 1980s and 1990.
But Merkel’s grip on the EPP was also a vital lever in bending others to her will and negotiating compromises in the rallies of what German idiots call the “Black International” – the pre-summit meeting of leaders of the European Union. EPP party.
If his favorite successor, the centrist pro-European Christian Democrat Armin Laschet, wins in September, it will take him months to form a coalition and then establish his authority at home. Like his predecessors, his priorities will likely be primarily national for the first two years, and he could meet resistance from the conservative right on European issues.
Among the candidates to exercise at least some interim leadership at Europe’s first table, it would be wrong to overlook Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who has earned universal respect for his leadership of the European Central Bank (ECB) during the euro area debt crisis and has ambitions to relax the budgetary discipline rules of the Stability Pact temporarily suspended.
As President of the ECB, Draghi has attended EU summits on and off since 2011. Eurozone government leaders know how much they owe him to keep the single currency on track and restore market confidence. at the height of the crisis.
Yet Draghi carries the triple handicap of: (a) running an unstable and heavily indebted country with debilitating political turnover, (b) not having a party of his own, and (c) being on a relatively short timeframe. short as a technocratic. prime minister whose term expires no later than 2023.
Macron will undoubtedly try to seize the vacant mantle, aided by the fact that France holds the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. Paris speaks of an ambitious program to build European strategic autonomy, to regulate the foreign trade and investment, reform the flawed EU immigration and asylum system and the conclusion of the Convention on the Future of Europe.
It will not be easy with the upcoming elections. Campaigning for presidential and parliamentary votes in April will effectively reduce the French presidency to the first three months of the year, thereby narrowing the leadership window. Macron’s need to win quickly during this time will make him dependent on clumsy colleagues in the EU.
Even if he is re-elected, as he probably will be, the French centrist president could be weakened by having to govern in cohabitation with the conservatives of the opposition. Only if he can forge a solid partnership with Laschet – assuming the CDU leader becomes chancellor – would a re-energized Franco-German tandem be ready to lead the EU squad in 2023.
That’s a long wait, and there would be barely a year left before the end of the EU’s political cycle, with European Parliament elections and a new Commission in 2024. So don’t be surprised if Europe is a horse without a rider for a long time to come. .