Macron: With the departure of Merkel, is he the new leader of Europe?

Angela Merkel is stepping down after 16 years as German Chancellor and Europe’s most prominent head of state. This is giving way to French President Emmanuel Macron to fill the power vacuum left in his wake.

Mr Macron has been a great promoter of Europe since his debut as President of France. And that has been a top priority lately, amid the pandemic, climate change and geopolitical tensions with Russia and China. “France is actively trying to influence the trajectory of the EU,” says Georgina Wright of the Institut Montaigne in Paris. “Much of what the EU is discussing right now [are] everything that France has pushed and the decisions that are close to Macron’s heart. “

Why we wrote this

For more than a decade, Europeans looked to Germany’s Angela Merkel to lead with unwavering ethics. Now, as she is preparing to leave office, can Emmanuel Macron take up his torch?

But Mr. Macron did not convince the Europeans that he could lead them. A recent poll found that 41% of European Union citizens would vote for Ms Merkel compared to 14% for Mr Macron in a hypothetical election for the EU presidency.

“Macron failed to take other members [of the EU] on board. He’s a leader without followers, ”says Jana Puglierin, co-author of the study. “He’s got big ideas … but he needs to be more trustworthy and more inclusive, more like Merkel in this regard.”

Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron has traveled France at breakneck speed in recent weeks, delivering public order speeches, unveiling public art and promising greener high-speed trains.

With the French presidential elections approaching next June, Mr Macron is positioning himself for the race – although he has yet to officially declare his intention to run.

But in doing so, he has another leadership role to fulfill which is just as urgent. Angela Merkel is stepping down after 16 years as German Chancellor and Europe’s most prominent head of state. This leaves room for France – the second largest country in Europe and the other player in a historically close Franco-German partnership – and for Mr. Macron to fill the void it will leave.

Why we wrote this

For more than a decade, Europeans looked to Germany’s Angela Merkel to lead with unwavering ethics. Now, as she is preparing to leave office, can Emmanuel Macron take up his torch?

But as France prepares to assume the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in January and Germany enters a period of movement as it builds its leadership coalition, Macron must bring more than ambition on the table. He will first have to deal with the filling of Ms. Merkel’s formidable shoes. The German Chancellor has been praised for her steadfast ethics, measured policy and ability to build consensus when it comes to controversial decisions on immigration and the economy.

Having a strong figurehead for Europe “is of fundamental importance,” said Paul Vallet, Franco-American researcher in European history at the Geneva Center for Security Policy. “One of the reasons people at local level feel detached from Europe’s role in the world is that they feel detached from official EU leaders.

“So the influence that a leader can exert is absolutely important,” he says. Besides Ms. Merkel, “there are very few personalities who stand out, so this leaves room for the French president to appear as an extremely competent conductor of proceedings”.

A French vision of Europe

European cooperation is increasingly important for France, especially amid the challenges that the nation and the bloc are currently facing. The EU’s potential for resilience and independent defense capabilities has been high on the French agenda in recent weeks, after Australia canceled a submarine contract with France worth $ 66 billion, choosing instead to partner with the United States and Great Britain. But the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and geopolitical challenges from Russia and China had already highlighted the value of cooperation from member states.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg upon his arrival in Brussels on June 14, 2021. Eastern Europe.

Mr Macron has been a great promoter of Europe from his early days as French President, delivering an ambitious speech at the Sorbonne University that proposed a detailed reform program focused on continental sovereignty and defense, and calling for Germany to play a leading role.

“France is actively trying to influence the trajectory of the EU,” explains Georgina Wright, head of the Europe program at the Institut Montaigne, a think tank in Paris. “I think it’s obvious that a lot of what the EU is discussing right now – whether it’s the climate deal, the EU’s foreign policy, or decisions about technology regulation – this are all the things France pushed and decisions close to Macron. heart. “

But Mr Macron’s achievements fell short of his ambitions. This is partly due to the inherent difficulty in reaching a political consensus among the 27 members of the EU. But it also has something to do with the style of the French leader, and the way he is perceived in relation to Merkel.

“Merkel is an analytical and very integrative person, so she tries to involve people to find a compromise,” says Daniela Schwarzer, executive director of Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations. “Macron has a much more disruptive understanding of change. There is a difference between the two approaches which is deeply rooted in the respective political cultures of France and Germany.

Last month, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) released a study that confirmed some of the apprehensions surrounding Mr Macron’s ability to unite Europe. This showed that EU citizens regard Germany as a trustworthy pro-European power, with Merkel a major source of this positive image. Their poll found that 41% of those polled would vote for Ms Merkel compared to 14% for Mr Macron in a hypothetical election for the EU presidency.

Hesitation among Europeans

The relative lack of support may be partly due to Mr Macron’s handling of the issues at home. His presidency has been marred by social unrest, including protests by yellow vests, and domestic terrorism.

And although Mr Macron has always promoted a strong vision of Europe with innovative ideas, he has been criticized for having upset his neighbors. For example, in November 2019, he said NATO was “brain dead” in an interview with The Economist. His brutal words sounded in German ears like a suggestion that NATO was worthless, and they alienated the countries of Central and Eastern Europe for which NATO is an invaluable part of their defense.

“Macron failed to take other members [of the EU] on board. He is a leader without followers, ”says Jana Puglierin, head of the ECFR office in Berlin. “He has big ideas and wants to change the status quo … but he needs to be more trustworthy and more inclusive, more like Merkel in this regard.”

Observers say Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi should not be seen as an influential figure for Europe, and that Rome, Berlin and Paris could potentially form a triangular alliance to help push decisions forward.

Yet the historically strong partnership of Germany and France will most likely dominate the European political agenda – with Germany being the largest of the bloc and France one of the most enthusiastic about integration and of European sovereignty.

Mr. Macron’s ability to lead Europe will, of course, depend on his ability to convince the French that he must remain their leader. If and when he officially starts campaigning for the presidential candidacy, his European agenda could fall apart. But on pressing issues such as climate change, the rule of law, defense and integration, France clearly has an important role to play.

“Macron has made great efforts to invest in his relations with European leaders. The Member States know that France is one of the only countries in the EU to have a European agenda and to be able to pass legislative texts, ”says Ms. Wright of the Montaigne Institute.

Whether that translates into a personal leadership role for Mr Macron, however, is another matter. “The problem with Europe is that there is no leader and no one expects a leader,” adds Ms. Wright. “What people are looking for is for the EU to move forward and keep reforming. No one expects a continuation from Merkel.

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