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Will France try to edge out Germany after Merkel leaves office


Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and France’s President Emmanuel Macron attends an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, on July 18, 2020, as the leaders of the European Union hold their first face-to-face summit over a post-virus economic rescue plan.

Getty Images When long-standing and influential German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office after the country’s upcoming federal election, many political pundits will be keeping an eye on France.| AFP | Getty Images

When long-standing and influential German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office after the country’s upcoming federal election, many political pundits will be keeping an eye on France.

That’s because experts think that France — and specifically, President Emmanuel Macron — is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to try to replace Germany as Europe’s de facto leader and arguably, the region’s superpower.

Analysts say Macron could attempt to replace Merkel as Europe’s chief figurehead and has been trying to position himself to do so for some time.

CNBC’s Carsten Brzeski told CNBC that there are already tentative efforts to assume leadership for Macron.

He cited “Macron’s intervention when it came to European discussions on fiscal rules.” France called on the EU to loosen rules concerning member states’ deficits and their debt-to-GDP ratios. Germany is opposed to any relaxation of existing rules to reduce deficits.

Brzeski said that Germany was too preoccupied at the moment with its own problems to be concerned about France’s strong leadership, which is lacking a German counterweight.

Brzeski pointed out that Germany knows Macron is fighting his own presidential elections, which could help it to be more receptive. The French election will take place next April.

“This will leave less time for strong European leadership initiatives, even though France will have the EU presidency next year,” Brzeski said.

“[I] I would guess the French election will be the true test, in the event Macron is reelected. The European presidency could be seized by someone more powerful. “This gives Merkel’s next chancellor approximately a year.” he stated.

Macron’s choice of partner?

According to analysts, Macron is more likely to work with Scholz than Laschet who was proposed by the conservative CDU-CSU bloc for Merkel’s successor.

“Of the two leading Chancellor-candidates, sources in the Elysee suggest Macron would be comfortable with either man, but has a slight preference for Scholz, who has already, as federal finance minister, worked closely with Paris on the ground-breaking EU post-Covid recovery fund,’ Eurasia Group’s Mujtaba Rahman and Anna-Carina Hamker said in a note last week.

Economic clout

While Macron might find he’s compatible with the next German chancellor when it comes to a common approach to EU policy, one area where France would find it hard to equal Germany is in terms of economic clout.

In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, almost a quarter of the EU’s gross domestic product (24.7%) was generated by Germany, followed by France (17.4%) and Italy (12.8%), ahead of Spain (8.9%) and the Netherlands (5.8%), according to Eurostat.

CNBC was told Thursday by Naz Masraff (director of Eurasia Group Europe), that Germany is Germany. France views this as an opportunity. But I don’t believe that you will diminish Germany’s importance. Although it might be more effective than before, I believe that the effectiveness of Germany’s role will not diminish.

“Inevitably, Merkel is going to be leaving very big shoes to fill after 16 years but at the end of the day, Germany is the key country in Europe and whoever is the German finance minister, whoever is the German chancellor, will be [leading] exactly that,” she said.

Experts predict that Germany’s economy will remain competitive regardless of who is in charge.

Holger Schmieding of Berenberg Bank said Thursday that Germany’s strength and influence is a result of Germany’s strong economy, its solid financial position, and its undisputed status as the central bank of the euro area. While faces change, the same will be true under either Laschet and Scholz.

France is slowly catching up to Germany under Macron. He said that France is still far from catching up with Germany’s economic and financial power.

Brzeski said that although Merkel may be irreplaceable at first, it is likely that the economy will make any chancellor important.

He added, “Maybe it wasn’t at the beginning but later.”

Unpopularity contest

It’s unlikely that Macron could enjoy the popularity ratings of Merkel, a leader who is leaving office of her own accord after 16 years.

Merkel, seen by many as a stable pair, has brought stability and stability to Germany’s (and Europe’s) political landscape through various crises in the decades past, such as the financial crash or the migration crisis.

A recent survey of 12 EU nations by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that most Europeans were not confident in Macron’s ability as a leader.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel look at Donald Trump and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Turkey as they pass them in a family picture taken during the NATO Summit held at Grove Hotel, Watford northeast of London on December 4, 2019.

Christian Hartman | AFP | Getty Images