At today's European Council most eyes are on Slovenia and their plans as incoming Council presidency next week. However, a much bigger shakeup in the Justus Lipsius is likely to be triggered by Germany's election in September.
Practice Lead for EU Policy Ana Martínez explains how and why in this piece produced alongside our digital conference series, Reshaping the EU: Policy agenda for 2021-2024.
Angela Merkel’s departure after September’s federal election creates uncertainty for the “Franco-German motor” and for President von der Leyen, but also opportunities for other member states. Close collaboration with France – whether President Chirac, Sarkozy, Hollande or Macron – has been at the heart of Merkel’s European strategy. At the same time the commission president is widely (if inaccurately) seen as a protégé of Merkel. Any signs of weaker support in Berlin would sap momentum for her stated vision of a ‘geopolitical’ commission taking a more assertive stance on trade, industrial and health policy.
Of the potential candidates, only the outsider Olaf Scholz, currently SPD finance minister, has existing ties to Paris and those are largely confined to his current remit. Scholz worked closely with President Macron (when French economy minister) on euro zone reform, and more recently on the Recovery Fund package. However, he has hinted at alignment with the more hawkish Netherlands over longer term fiscal rules, and will be ideologically closer to the Spanish and Portuguese governments on social issues. He has not yet needed to articulate a stance on issues such as new health powers for the EU, or the extent of collaboration or rivalry with China and the United States, making Germany’s alignment more unpredictable.
CDU candidate Armin Laschet promises continuity, but will need to win the confidence of experienced leaders. If Laschet seeks to replicate Merkel’s deal-making role, derived almost as much from her personal standing as from her position, he will need the trust of more experienced members of the council. Most obviously, this means finding common ground with Mario Draghi of Italy, but also preventing relations with Poland and Hungary from deteriorating further. He will also be wary of alienating potential successors to Macron, who faces his own re-election challenge in 2022.
The biggest change would undoubtedly be the election of the Greens’ Annalena Baerbock. Baerbock’s momentum in opinion polls – which she recently led – has sapped, but she remains a credible Chancellor candidate with either the centre-right or centre-left. Her election would remove Germany’s weight from the currently-dominant European People’s Party political group, and further diminish the hold of the traditional grand coalition between the EPP and the social democrats. It would mean the European Council more closely reflecting the makeup of the European Parliament, potentially further emboldening that institution, and give the Greens a say at the highest level of EU decision making for the first time.
We have been following closely the political developments ahead of the September federal elections in Germany. Below, you can watch the recording of a recent event with Dr Norbert Roettgen, MdB and chairman of the Bundestag's Foreign Affairs Committee and Jeff Rathke, President of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.
You can listen to Denzil Davidson, Adviser, and Thomas Gratowski, Practice Lead for global macro discuss the German state elections and life after Merkel on the Global Counsel podcast here