There are a few days left for the passing of the baton from Angela Merkel to Olaf Scholz but Brussels, writes El Pais, already rejoices. This is why
there is no emptiness in politics and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is about to prove it, writes El Pais. There are still a few days left for the handover to the next chancellor, Olaf Scholz, but Brussels is already delighted with the prospect of a new government that is markedly pro-European and much more ambitious than the previous one in terms of EU policy. The end of the Merkel era marks the beginning of a new relationship between Berlin and Brussels and ends three decades of crisis in which the outgoing Chancellor has often acted more as a burden than a driving force.
The EU authorities did not wait for the change to get a first impression of the mood of the tripartite future (Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals) led by Scholz. The president of the European Council, 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 for the Greens and Christian Lindner for the Liberals.
“The first impression is clear: in Germany there will be a government with a pro-European agenda”, summarizes a senior European official speaking of the first contacts with the personalities who will soon take over the leadership of the country. The same source is “optimistic” about the arrival of a government that could be decisive in overcoming the health and economic crisis caused by Covid and “that everyone agrees that it will mark a turning point in the EU”.
The social democratic leadership of the new government, supported by the Greens as a third party after the September elections, foresees a rebalancing of forces in the EU Council in favor of a greater weight of social and environmental policies. The presence in the coalition of liberals, the fourth party in the elections, does not seem to have sufficient weight to counterbalance the driving force of the two main parties in the coalition.
EU sources indicate that Berlin “will be the key to getting out of the crisis and moving towards prosperity and a post-Covid socio-economic model with the fight against climate change and digitalization at the center”. The impulse of Scholz, hitherto finance minister in the grand coalition led by Merkel, will also be essential to adapt the stability pact to the new economic reality and to complete reforms that have been bogged down by Berlin objections, such as the banking union.
“In Germany there will now be a government willing to lead Europe from the front, and how!” the liberal deputy and co-chair of the Conference on the future of Europe, Guy Verhofstadt, enthuses in an article published yesterday in Politico. Verhofstadt is delighted that what he calls “Merkel’s brake” will go down in history, referring in particular to the Chancellor’s reluctance to see the EU do its utmost to stop the authoritarian drift in Poland and Hungary. Slow reaction in Greece
Among the responsibilities of the Chancellor, according to her critics, there will also be the slow reaction of the EU during the Greek crisis (2010), which under the leadership of Berlin preferred to give a lesson to Athens rather than put an end, as soon as possible, to speculative attacks. The Greek debacle ended up triggering a debt crisis in several eurozone countries, including Spain, and the austerity prescriptions dictated by Berlin condemned much of Europe to a double recession and made the Old Continent lose more. more economic land than in the United States.
Merkel, however, saved her European legacy during the pandemic crisis. You quickly teamed up with French President Emmanuel Macron to propose a multi-billion dollar recovery fund that will eventually see the light and, for the first time in EU history, finance grants through joint debt issuance. For the first time in Merkel’s four mandates, the Franco-German axis is back on track.
“Scholz was deputy chancellor during Merkel’s last term, which coincided with the strong European response to the pandemic,” notes an EU source. The presence of the former number two at the head of the government suggests, according to the same source, that Berlin will maintain and probably deepen Merkel’s pro-European turn in the last two years. “I’m sure there will be a clear European commitment,” said another senior EU official.
Constanze Stelzenmuller, EU policy specialist at the Brookings Institution, believes that “Brussels and the Union should be reassured by Chancellor Scholz’s commitment to transformative governance”.
The Europe chapter of the coalition agreement confirms Stelzenmuller’s diagnosis. “We will form a government that will define German interests in the light of European interests,” promises the agreement forged by Socialists, Greens and Liberals just two months after the elections that sent Merkel’s Christian Democrats into opposition.
Unlike in recent years, when numerous reforms – from the banking union to the creation of the eurozone bailout fund – have had to overcome the fierce resistance of Berlin, the tripartite is committed to using the full political weight of the EU’s largest partner. to push the transformation of the European club.
Berlin intends to use the Conference on the Future of Europe, an initiative that had been moribund due to a lack of enthusiasm in most capitals, to trigger “a constitutional convention and further federal development of Europe”.
The agreement also seems to put an end to the so-called “Union method”, the system devised by Merkel to shift the engine of integration from the European Commission to the Council, a forum composed of the Presidents of governments that operates opaque and with few or no no explanation to the European Parliament. “We will once again give priority to the community method”, notes the government agreement, referring to the system that returns its leading role to the Commission. The liberals, temperate
The liberal wing of the future government has also 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 (the Netherlands, Finland and Austria) that supported Berlin during the austere years and even opposed the creation of the pandemic fund. “Germany cannot act as a savings commissioner,” he said in a recent interview with Der Spiegel.
Guy Verhofstadt did not hide his joy at the possible resurrection of the Conference on the future of Europe. “The stars are lining up for a true reform of the EU”, says the liberal MEP, pointing to Macron’s semester of EU presidency (from 1 January) and Mario Draghi’s leadership in Italy as the milestones of a new virtuous triangle that would leave years of paralysis and hesitation behind it.
However, Stelzenmuller warns against unbridled optimism. He advises Brussels and the EU to “watch very carefully how Scholz and his team face the inevitable onslaught of reality, for example in Ukraine”, referring to the possible confrontation with Russia. “Whether or not this government will be able to shape [European] politics depends on it.”
(Extract from the foreign press review by eprcomunicazione)

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