I’ve commented on Europe’s problems and prospects a few times, including within the context of the Brexit, and I have noted that Germany is the linchpin. Now, Gideon Rachman, chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times, looks at the central role that Angela Merkel plays in Germany, which is central to Europe, which is one of the key theatres in the whole world, and find that “there is no other European leader with the authority and patience to forge the deals that are necessary to keep the EU together. And some kind of leadership is badly needed because the union faces at least six acute and interconnected problems.” He goes on to explain that “Much of Ms Merkel’s authority in Europe stems from her command of politics in Germany. A chancellor who is losing her magic touch at home will find it harder to act as the de facto leader of the continent … [and, while] … Many European governments harbour resentment against Ms Merkel … they will miss her ability to keep Europe together when she finally falls.” Mr Rachman says of the “six acute and interconnected problems:
- The first and newest is Brexit;
- The second is the euro;
- The third is refugees;
- The fourth is Russia;
- The fifth is the erosion of democratic values and practices in Hungary and Poland; and
- The sixth is the rise of the political extremes across Europe.
At the centre are competing visions of Europe and the West. The British have one of their own … parts of it are shared by the Dutch, Irish, and Scandinavians; the French have one, shared, largely by the Italians, Portuguese and Spanish, there is an Easter European vision and, in the middle, is the thousand year old German vision of Mitteleuropa:
… it was what the French and the Danes, Lithuanians, Poles, Swedes and Russians always feared and against which they could, up until 1945, make common cause.
And then there is the Russian “dream,” although, perhaps, nightmare is the better term, of always being threatened, simultaneously, by the Germans from the West and the Asians from the East. These dreams and nightmares can, possibly, coexist IF there is very good leadership in the centre. Ms Merkel, like other Germans post war leaders has provided that but none ever faced such a set of parallel problems.
Although not at the top of her list of problems, I doubt that Chancellor Merkel is happy with our last Canadians election. She lost a staunch friend and socio-economic ally in Stephen Harper and she now faces a Canadian prime minister who must remind her of of some combination of President Obama and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi: almost exactly what she doesn’t need when she must deal with Prime Minister May, a formidable politician in her own right, on the Brexit file and President Putin on the opportunistic adventurism one. Chancellor Merkel doesn’t have many allies and she has even fewer friends, my guess is that she regrets what happened here, in Canada, in October 2015. With all the many and varied problems she is facing she needs all the help she can get and I suspect that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will provide little.
Chancellor Merkel political days are numbered … she is an elected leader in a stable democracy and change is inevitable in political leadership. The big question for Germany, and for Europe and, indeed, for the US led West (including Canada) which is increasingly mistrustful, even fearful of US leaders, is: will the Germans pick a Harper-Merkel like figure, someone of strength and gravitas, or will they go for a German version of the Obama-Trudeau featherweight model?