She dominated Europe – a de facto leader in times of crisis. For 16 years, Angela Merkel has used her cautious and calm pragmatism to guide the continent through the rise of the far right, an awkward response to migrant arrivals and, of course, Brexit.
As the Merkel era draws to a close, another European leader may emerge and take the helm. Here are the main contenders:
One of the most insightful endorsements of Mario Draghi’s leadership came from Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during a visit to Rome in June.
Describing the former head of the European Central Bank as a ‘maestro’, Sanchez said: ‘Whenever Draghi addresses the European Council, we all stay silent and listen. It is not something that happens often.
Draghi, appointed Italian Prime Minister in February, had a similar impact on the rowdy group of political parties that make up his broad coalition, each aligning on a series of thorny issues, including the introduction of a vaccine passport. Covid-19.
He also impressed the electorate, presenting himself as Italy’s most beloved leader. We are far from what the population is used to.
Draghi’s government saved the country’s immunization program, revived the economy, and adopted viable measures to contain coronavirus infections. On top of that, Draghi succeeded in pushing through a contested reform of the justice system, a requirement for Italy to carve out the lion’s share of the European Union’s pandemic stimulus fund.
“Things have to be done because they have to be done, not for an immediate result, even if they are unpopular,” Draghi said earlier in September.
Pragmatic, calm, determined and not afraid to say it, for some of his relatives, Draghi, respected abroad and at home, is the most viable person to replace Merkel as the de facto leader of the Europe.
“We have the most prominent figure, it’s Draghi,” said Giancarlo Giorgetti, Italian Minister for Economic Development.
European politics played virtually no role in the German election campaign. Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that despite the policy differences between the parties now fighting for a position in the post-Merkel government, on Europe, all the traditional parties are more or less on the same length. wave: Germany almost needs the EU. more than the EU needs Germany. Its purpose is to make sure it doesn’t fail.
If Scholz succeeds in forming a coalition government and becoming Chancellor, little is likely to change.
His role as finance minister under Merkel – responsible for maintaining the economy – and his central contribution to setting up the EU’s € 750 billion (£ 642 billion) coronavirus stimulus fund reinforced its commitment to the bloc as well as its seriousness as a strategic, although not exciting, decision-maker.
He called the fund a “clear signal for European solidarity and strength”, while sending the message to a national audience that a powerful recovery in Europe was a crucial precondition for ensuring Germany’s economic prosperity.
Scholz is said to be under pressure to take a leadership role on issues such as the creation of a refugee policy based on solidarity – something Merkel failed to achieve – as well as the challenge of driving environmental reform and to couple it with economic growth. He is more pragmatic than visionary, but that is more likely to reassure than to put off his future counterparts.
Macron has laid out his vision for Europe since his election, arguing several times since his big speech at the Sorbonne in 2017 that the EU must remedy its flaws: in his words, “too weak, too slow, too inefficient” .
His proposals – an integrated EU defense, euro zone reform, a common asylum policy, a digital tax – have made little progress, hampered in part by a crippled German coalition and Merkel’s cautious and consensual instincts.
Few, however, believe that the Chancellor’s departure will allow the ambitious, impatient and sometimes arrogant French president to put herself directly in her shoes: no leader, according to most, will equal Merkel’s influence at her peak.
Following this month’s crisis with the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom over the Aukus security deal, which cost France a contract for submarines of several billion euros, he once again called for greater European autonomy as China rises and the United States refocuses on Asia.
After the chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Aukus debacle, more EU leaders may now be willing to agree that the EU must be less dependent on Washington – but few want to risk damaging transatlantic relations, and a European army is far away.
How well Macron succeeds in moving his agenda forward will largely depend on the success of France’s six-month EU presidency, which begins in January, and, of course, his re-election in the French presidential election d next April.
He will certainly try to take on the role of Merkel. But he will need partners to go anywhere, compromise and consensus: the hallmarks of Merkel, but not, for now, of Macron.