All things must come to an end and that includes political eras. The Merkel Era is drawing to a close. Germany and Europe are anxiously peering ahead into an ambiguous future. Regrettably for them, the Merkel Era does not seem to be going gently into that good night. Instead of a quick death, it appears destined to linger for an extended period of time before dying off. Its current status is comparable to a patient entering hospice care. The end is inevitable, and family members have gathered around to say goodbye, though no one is certain when that will be. And, to quote Tom Petty, ‘the waiting is the hardest part.’
Germany is in a period of political stasis. Politicians, and political parties alike have been behaving out of character since Angela Merkel’s fortunes took a turn for the worse. Nobody wants to join a coalition government chaired by the chancellor. Her efforts to build a coalition have been rebuffed and stonewalled by friend and foe alike. The Free Democrats (FDP) stepped away and are now pursuing their own path to power, while the Social Democrats (SPD) have been carping over the details so much they have made it readily apparent that they want nothing to do with a Merkel-built coalition. Eventually, a coalition will be formed and Merkel will be the head of it, but she might do more harm than good. Her political capital has been exhausted and the September elections made it clear that a significant number of Germans want to move away from Merkelism. She may not cede power for another year or two, but German politicians are already positioning themselves for the post-Merkel Era future.
The European Union is in an even more delicate position. The political crisis in Germany has stopped the EU agenda dead in its tracks. Efforts to figure out the shape institutional reforms cannot move ahead until the situation in Germany resolves itself. France’s president Emanuel Macron has his own set of ideas, and reforms which he would like to be considered. Unfortunately, the EU is reluctant to even begin discussing Macron’s ideas until the German situation resolves itself. In other words, the EU is not going to be making consequential decisions, or moving forward on major issues without Germany. With or without Angela Merkel in power, Germany continues to be central to all things Europe in the eyes of the EU. It’s unclear if this will remain true as the political fortunes of Emanuel Macron rise, but at present, most in the EU appear reluctant to rock the boat.
Even with the Merkel Era waning away, and the current German government adopting a caretaker status, Germany remains the undisputed Godfather of the continent.
A quiet panic is materializing in Brussels right now as German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains unable to end Germany’s political deadlock and form a coalition. Every day that goes by with conditions remaining unchanged diminishes Merkel’s political power both at home and across Europe. To be frank, Germany appears to be growing weary of Merkel. In all likelihood she will head the new government when it forms. However, this has more to do with a lack of challengers facing her than it does her political acumen. In Brussels and beyond, a growing number of European Union officials, and their supporters are feeling as if the European project is caving in. The EU is at a pivotal moment in its history with the supranational body on the verge of enacting major reforms. But without Germany there to support and guide the EU through the uncharted territory, concern is turning to panic rapidly.
The European Union is facing a tumultuous period of uncertainty. Brexit, the nagging Eurozone crisis, a continent-wide lack of unity, and the rise of right wing populist politicians and governments have combined to challenge the EU like never before. Brussels had been counting on Merkel emerging from the September elections ready to lead the reform efforts. After all, Germany has been the guiding force behind the European Union for years whether EU officials care to admit it or not. Those hopes have been dashed. Regardless of what happens in Berlin, Germany and its leader will emerge from this political crisis with its prestige and power bruised. For Germany, this issue will reverse itself eventually. For the EU, the bedrock that German support, and leadership is no longer a given.
In the wings is France and its leader Emanuel Macron. EU hopes for the future could very well be pinned on him, although he is no Angela Merkel, and France is not the economic, and political colossus that the Federal Republic of Germany is. Something to be remembered in the coming weeks.
The French people have spoken. Emanuel Macron will be the Republic of France’s next president. Marine Le Pen’s bid to win the presidency fell well short of the expectations of her and her party. Whereas Le Pen rode a wave of Brexit and Donald Trump inspired populism, Macron’s own political position was made up of a pseudo-socialist cloak that differs little in substance from the current president’s own positions.
What does this mean for France? Macron is portrayed as a centrist and political outsider by the European media. In reality, nothing is farther from the truth. He has held government positions in the past and is an avowed globalist. His policies as president will reflect his pro-European Union slant. He will attempt to bring France closer to the EU and its sphere. At a time when other European nation-states are rethinking their relationships with the EU, expect France to go all in, for lack of a better term. France’s future economic and trade policies will fall in line with what favors the financial policies dictated in Brussels, and, to a lesser extent, Berlin. Macron will also do everything possible to throw a wrench into Brexit negotiations. He’s very much opposed to Britain’s departure from the EU and his position there will have a very negative effect on UK-French relations in the future.
In the security and refugee realm, France will attempt to reach a compromise of sorts between continuing to accept large numbers of refugees and strengthening the borders of France. Francois Hollande made a similar attempt and it ended in near disaster for the Republic. France became no more secure and ISIS-inspired attackers were emboldened by the lack of effective defenses put up by the French government. The string of attacks across France in recent years contributed greatly to Hollande’s plummeting popularity. Marcon needs to accept and understand that his own political fortunes are inextricably tied to his ability to combat terrorism in France.
The aftereffects of the French election will take some time to materialize. It is fair to assume that France and Germany will spearhead an effort to rally the European Union. Despite the recent victories by pro-EU candidates across the continent, the future of the European Union continues to remain unclear. Europe’s populist movement is by no means dead, however, it has suffered a powerful setback. For the moment, Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel, and Jean Claude Juncker can breath a bit easier.
Tomorrow, France will choose between two candidates and their respective paths. The path of Emanuel Macron is pro-European Union and built on the support of many politicians who are responsible for the mess that France finds itself in right now. The other path is offered by Marine Le Pen, a right-wing candidate with a message which has resonated among many working-class French citizens. Le Pen’s path is forged in populism and is decidedly anti-European Union. Truthfully, Le Pen’s candidacy bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump in 2016.
It will be a decisive, and momentous day for France no matter who wins. The ramifications that will follow the decision will be felt far and wide from Washington to Brussels and Berlin. The results will also push many questions about France’s future to the forefront. Should Le Pen win will a Frexit referendum be long in coming? Or, if Macron is victorious how much closer will he move France into the EU’s bosom?
Macron is leading in the polls yet the former investment banker has had a difficult last week of campaigning. First it was a volatile debate with Le Pen where the infamous ‘France will be led by a woman’ remark was made. Then today the Macron campaign suffered a major hacking attack. It is unclear how damaging the attack will be, but comparisons between the Macron hack and what happened to Hillary Clinton’s campaign last year are already being made.
With the polls set to open in less than 24 hours, one has to wonder about Macron’s lead in the polls. Is it a genuine lead, the result of intentional under-representation in the polling, or because many Le Pen supporters are hesitant to reveal who they are really voting for? 2016 is not that far behind us and the debacles that polling data suffered during Brexit and the US election are on many minds today.
The wild card is the computer hack. France’s election campaign commission has warned that anyone spreading the leaked information before the election could face criminal charges. Whether this deters people or not remains to be seen. It is unclear how large of a role, if any, the incident will have come tomorrow.
For what it is worth, I would like to see Le Pen win tomorrow. However, even if she is not the winner, France has not seen the last of her.