German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are seen at a news conference after a Syria summit, in Istanbul, Turkey October 27, 2018. Image Credit: Reuters

Angela Merkel has been the poster woman for Europe’s democratic centre, but the centre is imploding. The prospect of her departure — she announced last week that she will not run for another term as the German chancellor — has nonetheless created a degree of panic at the core of the European Union.

What Europe will do without Merkel?

This is no small question, say analysts, especially when nationalism is rising and Europe’s politics seem to be reorganised not along the usual Left-Right spectrum, but rather around who is for Europe, and who is against it.

Who can act as a counter-balance to forces of disunity?

In Merkel’s eventual absence, the future of the European Union’s (EU) stability is suddenly an urgent discussion.

Tomas Valasek, the director of Carnegie Europe, said Merkel “created European consensus out of nothing.”

Emmanuel Macron, the young president of France, is “now the default leader of Europe, the big hope”, Jan Techau, the Berlin-based director of the Europe programme for the German Marshall Fund, said. “He’s the last one with a strong mandate and an instinct for the right thing.”

Is Macron strong enough on his own?

The problem for Macron was, and remains, that he is not strong enough on his own to push through his ambitious vision of “more Europe”, said Techau. He needs German support.

For now at least, before European parliamentary elections next May, Macron, unpopular at home, has no representatives in the European Parliament. And his ideas for reform of the bloc and the Eurozone, laid out with fanfare in September 2017, have got little if any traction.

Will Merkel’s support of Macron make a difference?

On paper, Merkel has committed to support some of Macron’s ideas for Eurozone reform. If she was lukewarm to some of his other proposals — such as empowering a European finance minister — Merkel at least provides a reasonably like-minded partner at the core of Europe.

But in the long run, any [other] Merkel successor is unlikely to be any more supportive of Macron’s ideas, and will have a lot less stature in Brussels than the chancellor has earned after what have been some 102 European summits since she took power in 2005.

— New York Times News Service