Brussels hopes new German government will push for further European integration | International


There is no such thing as a vacuum in politics and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is about to prove it. He still has a few days to hand over to the next Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, but Brussels is already licking its lips with the prospect of a new government clearly pro-European and much more ambitious than the previous one in Community policy. Merkel’s departure marks the start of a new relationship between Berlin and Brussels and ends three decades plagued by crises in which the outgoing Chancellor has often acted more as a drag than a driver.

The community authorities did not wait for the replacement to feel firsthand the state of mind of the future tripartite (Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals) led by Scholz. European Council President Charles Michel traveled to Berlin in October to meet both the future chancellor of the SPD and the leaders of his allies, Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck, on behalf of the Greens, and Christian Lindner, in the name of the SPD. . liberals.

“The first impression is obvious: in Germany there will be a government with a pro-European agenda”, summarizes a senior European official taking stock of the first contacts with the personalities who will soon lead the country. The same source is “optimistic” before the arrival of an Executive who could be decisive for the exit of a health and economic crisis caused by covid-19 and “that everyone agrees that this will mark a turning point in the EU ”.

The social democratic leadership of the new government, seconded by Los Verdes as the third party after the electoral race in September, anticipates a rebalancing of forces in the Council of the EU in favor of greater weight in social and environmental policies. The presence in the coalition of the Liberals, the fourth party in the election, does not seem to carry enough weight to thwart the driving force of the two main parties in the coalition.

Community sources indicate that Berlin “will be the key to emerging from the crisis and moving towards prosperity and a post-covid socio-economic model which focuses on the fight against climate change and digitization”. The impetus of Scholz, hitherto finance minister in the grand coalition led by Merkel, will also be fundamental in adapting the Stability Pact to the new economic reality and completing reforms bogged down by Berlin’s objections, such as banking union .

“In Germany, there will now be a government ready to lead Europe from the top, and how! », Enthuses the liberal MEP and co-chair of the Conference on the future of Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, in a column published yesterday in Politics. Verhofstadt welcomes the fact that what he calls “Merkel’s brake” has gone down in history, especially alluding to the Chancellor’s reluctance to allow the EU to use it fully to stop the drift towards authoritarianism in Poland and in Hungary.

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Slow reaction in Greece

To the liabilities of the Chancellor, according to her detractors, there will also be the slowness of the reaction of the EU during the Greek crisis (2010), which under the leadership of Berlin preferred to teach Athens a lesson rather than settle the issues. speculative attacks as quickly as possible. as possible. The Greek debacle ended up causing a debt crisis in several eurozone countries, including Spain, and the austerity recipes dictated by Berlin condemned much of Europe to a double recession and made lose even more economic ground in the Old Continent compared to the USA.

Merkel, however, has secured her European heritage during the crisis caused by the pandemic. The Chancellor quickly joined forces with French President Emmanuel Macron to propose a multi-million dollar stimulus fund that would eventually see the light of day and which, for the first time in EU history, is funding grants through joint debt issuance. The Franco-German axis was once again rolling strong for the first time since Merkel’s four terms.

“Scholz was vice-chancellor during Merkel’s final stage, which coincided with the forceful European response to the pandemic,” said an EU source. The presence of the old number two head of government predicts, according to the same source, that Berlin will maintain and, possibly, deepen Merkel’s pro-European turn over the past two years. “I am sure there will be a clear European commitment,” bet another senior EU official.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, specialist in European policies at the Brookings Institution, believes that “Brussels and the EU must feel reassured about Chancellor Scholz’s commitment to transformative governance”. The Europe chapter of the coalition agreement corroborates Dr Stelzenmüller’s diagnosis. “We will form a government which will define German interests in the light of European interests,” promises the agreement forged by the Socialists, Greens and Liberals barely two months after the elections which sent Merkel’s Christian Democrats into the country. ‘opposition.

Unlike in recent years, when many reforms – from the banking union to the creation of the eurozone rescue fund – had to overcome fierce resistance from Berlin, the tripartite pledged to use all the political weight of the biggest partner of the EU to drive the transformation of the European club.

Berlin intends to take advantage of the Conference on the Future of Europe, an initiative born moribund out of the lack of enthusiasm in most capitals, to trigger “a constitutional convention and greater federal development of Europe”.

The deal also appears to put an end to the so-called ‘Union Method’, the system Merkel devised to shift the engine of integration from the European Commission to the Council, a forum made up of government presidents that operates in an opaque manner and without giving much explanation to the European Parliament. “We will again give priority to the Community method”, specifies the government agreement, referring to the mechanism which returns the Commission to its role of leader.

Liberals, temperate

Even the liberal wing of the future government has tempered its latent euroscepticism of recent years. Its budding leader and finance minister, Christian Lindner, has already distanced himself from the so-called frugal, the group of countries (Holland, Finland or Austria) which supported Berlin during the years of austerity and which resisted until ‘at its creation. of the pandemic fund. “Germany cannot act as a savings commissioner,” he stressed in a recent interview with The mirror.

Guy Verhofstadt, a vehement federalist, does not hide his joy at the possible resurrection of the Conference on the Future of Europe. “The stars are lining up for a real reform of the EU,” points out the liberal MEP and recalls the six-monthly presidency of the EU in the hands of Macron (from January 1) and the leadership of Mario Draghi in Italy as the tops of a new virtuous triangle that would leave behind years of paralysis and hesitation.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, analyst at Brookings, however, warns against wild optimism. And he recommends to Brussels and the EU “to observe very carefully how Scholz and his team face the inevitable onslaught of reality, for example in Ukraine”, alluding to a possible clash with Russia. “It will depend on whether or not this government is able to shape the policy [europea]”.

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