She dominated Europe – a de facto leader in times of crisis. For 16 years, Angela Merkel has been using her signature cautious, calm pragmatism to steer the continent through the rise of right-wing extremists, an awkward response to the arrival of migrants and, of course, Brexit.
With the end of the Merkel era, another European leader could emerge and take over the helm. Here are the main competitors:
One of the most revealing confirmations of Mario Draghi’s leadership came from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during a visit to Rome in June.
Sanchez called the former head of the European Central Bank a “maestro” and said: “When Draghi speaks to the European Council, we all fall silent and listen. That doesn’t happen often. “
Draghi, who was named Italy’s prime minister in February, has had a similar impact on the divided political parties that make up his broad coalition, each of which was pondering a number of sensitive issues, including getting a Covid-19 vaccine passport.
He has also impressed voters and voted it as Italy’s most valued leader. It is a far cry from what the population is used to.
Draghi’s government has saved the country’s vaccination program, revitalized the economy and taken workable measures to curb coronavirus infections. In addition, Draghi managed to push through a controversial judicial system reform, a requirement for Italy to secure the lion’s share of the European Union’s Pandemic Recovery Fund.
“Things have to be done because they have to be done, not to have an immediate result, even if they are unpopular,” Draghi said in early September.
Pragmatic, calm, determined and unafraid to put it that way, Draghi, who is as respected abroad as he is at home, is for some of his family the most suitable person to fill Merkel’s footsteps as the de facto leader of Europe.
“We have the most prominent figure, that is Draghi,” said Giancarlo Giorgetti, Italy’s Minister for Economic Development.
European politics played almost no role in the German election campaign. Which probably has a lot to do with the fact that despite the different policies between the parties that are now fighting for a position in the post-Merkel government, all mainstream parties are more or less on the same side with regard to Europe: Germany needs the EU needs almost more than the EU needs Germany. Its raison d’etre is to make sure it doesn’t fail.
If Scholz successfully forms a coalition government and becomes chancellor, not much is likely to change.
His role as finance minister under Merkel – responsible for maintaining the economy – and his central contribution to the establishment of the 750 billion not exciting decision maker.
He called the fund “a clear signal for European solidarity and strength”, while at the same time conveying the message to the domestic audience that a strong upswing in Europe was a decisive prerequisite for securing one’s own economic prosperity in Germany.
Scholz would be under pressure to take on a leadership role on issues such as a solidarity-based refugee policy – which Merkel failed to do – or the challenge of advancing environmental reforms and coupling them with economic growth. He is more of a pragmatist than a visionary, but that calms his future colleagues rather than deterring him.
Macron has been outlining his vision for Europe since he was elected and since his big Sorbonne speech in 2017 has repeatedly argued that the EU must address its failings: “too weak, too slow, too inefficient”.
His proposals – an integrated EU defense, a reform of the euro zone, a common asylum policy, a digital tax – have made little progress, partially hampered by a paralyzed German coalition and Merkel’s cautious, consensual instinct.
Few observers believe, however, that the Chancellor’s resignation will clear the way for France’s ambitious, impatient and sometimes arrogant president to follow directly in her footsteps: not a single leader, most say, will reach Merkel’s influence at its peak.
After the US, Australia and UK crisis earlier this month over the Aukus Security Agreement that cost France a billion dollar submarine contract, he pushed again for more European autonomy as China rises and the US focuses on Asia again.
After the chaotic withdrawal of the West from Afghanistan and the Aukus debacle, more EU heads of state and government may now agree that the EU must be less dependent on Washington – but few want to risk damaging transatlantic relations and an EU Army is a long way off.
How far Macron succeeds in advancing his agenda will largely depend on the success of France’s six-month EU Council Presidency, which begins in January, and of course on the fact that he himself will be re-elected in the French presidential elections next April.
He will certainly try to take on Merkel’s cloak. But he needs partners in order to achieve something, as well as compromises and consensus: Merkel’s trademarks, but so far not Macron.