Irish Examiner view: Who will guide Europe after Merkel?

Europe — and Ireland — remains at a crossroads
Irish Examiner view: Who will guide Europe after Merkel?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel walks past honor guards during her visit to Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Picture: AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic

As we embark on the final week of campaigning before next Sunday’s German federal election for the Bundestag which will indicate who is to replace Angela Merkel, it is no exaggeration to state that Europe, and with it, Ireland, is at a crossroads.

In the past seven days, EU president Ursula von der Leyen has been declaiming on European successes and setting out a vision of what we might expect in the future in certain key matters.

Among her eye-catching comments in a state-of-the-union speech in Strasbourg was a declaration that the bloc must have the political will to build its own military force and be prepared to deploy it, perhaps in different circumstances to both the UN and Nato. 

Ireland is one of the six-member states which is not in the military alliance, alongside Malta, Cyprus, Finland, Austria, and Sweden.

France's President Emmanuel Macron with Angela Merkel prior to a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, earlier this month. Picture: AP Photo/Michel Euler
France's President Emmanuel Macron with Angela Merkel prior to a meeting at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, earlier this month. Picture: AP Photo/Michel Euler

Spending on defence in percentage and real terms in Europe is much smaller than in the US, or Britain, or Australia. 

This is often applauded here but quite how it will sit with a more vigorous stance from Brussels we will find out next year when a leaders’ summit under the guidance of Emmanuel Macron is to discuss new policies.

Any developments in joint forces must be under the aegis not only of France but also Germany, which remains the foundation upon which European unity rests.

When Ms Merkel passes into political history, she will bring to a close an era of personal involvement which opened one month after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 when she joined a party called Democratic Awakening. 

As its name indicates, it was founded in East Germany, where the young woman who would become chancellor grew up.

The alliance which is likely to follow Ms Merkel will face some mighty challenges; if Europe is anything it is a conglomerate of coalitions. The eurozone is divided three ways: north, south, and east. 

Carbon and climate taxes will prove to be unpopular as they add to inflationary pressure on the resources of ordinary consumers and families.

A major net fiscal contributor has been lost with the unnecessary departure of Britain.

Throughout the financial world, the prevailing wind is already turning towards paying down the costs of the Covid pandemic and it will be at this point that idealism will clash with hard-nosed realities to challenge the communautaire spirit. 

On our own borders, the troubling future of the Northern Ireland protocol will require the interest and attention of a new European leader.

We are unlikely to have a decisive result next weekend and it may be that the chancellor will have to don her coat of many colours for a while longer before she finds a successor and can spend more time following her beloved Bayern Munich and catch up with her life.

In a revealing interview this summer, she was asked what she might do in the future.

“Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will close because I’m tired, and I’ll take a little nap,” she said. “And then let’s see where that takes me.”

Where Europe goes as a result is an open question, and one in which every voter needs to take a keen interest.

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