Europe turns a new page between 2021 and 2022

LONDON: Europe is unlikely to be in 2022 what it was in 2021. The Empress of the Continent – Angela Merkel – after 16 uninterrupted years as German Chancellor – resigned her post in December, as announced in advance.
Without his leadership, his Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lost the legislative elections in September. This ushered in a coalition government led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), with Olaf Sholtz as successor.

Germany is the economic power of Europe. Over this key industrialized nation, Merkel, the first woman to hold the post of chancellor, ruled with serenity, efficiency and fairness, which many of her opponents have struggled to understand.

Indeed, at the head of a center-right party, she undertook the extraordinary process of welcoming 800,000 Syrian refugees. His own party was uncomfortable with this; but her compassion prevailed, so much so that she was re-elected even after that in 2017, albeit with a smaller margin.

The last four years of her tenure as head of government have witnessed the unusual but not unprecedented phenomenon of a large alliance of left and right, the SPD sharing power with her. In fact, Sholtz was this government’s finance minister.

Merkel will keep an office in central Berlin, the German capital, and may not retire completely. A role of senior stateswoman cannot be ruled out.

She told a leading news agency: “I see myself talking regularly about the link between our prosperity, research and innovation, but I’m sure I won’t be doing any scientific work (a reference to her previous career as chemist) .”

Sholtz is described as a male version of Merkel. Low profile and not very abrasive, he goes about his job quietly – quite in the German character, if one does not take into account the aberration of a certain Adolf Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s.

Following in Merkel’s footsteps, Sholtz embarked on her first trip abroad to France, which together with Germany constitute the controllers of the European Union (EU).

Sholtz supports enhanced European integration and enhanced European sovereignty, which correspond to the views of French President Emmanuel Macron. But their immediate challenge is to counter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s lofty rhetoric on defense and security in Eastern Europe, let alone consider a response if Moscow increases China’s gas supply at the expense of China. ‘Western Europe. Already energy prices in the EU are skyrocketing.

While Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats holds the finance portfolio, for the first time in German history the foreign, interior and defense ministries are headed by women – in a bold declaration of equality of the sexes.

Nancy Faesar of the SPD is Minister of the Interior. Christine Lembrecht, also from the SPD, is Minister of Defense. And Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party, who speaks fluent English, is the foreign minister.

Broad continuity in German foreign policy is expected under the new “traffic light” administration (SPD red, Green Party green and Free Democrats yellow).

Politico magazine wrote: “One of Baerbock’s challenges will be to put a green footprint on foreign policy, where his party has taken a tougher line (than the CDU-SPD government) on China and Russia.

She is a staunch defender of human rights, her position on the recent attacks on Christians and Muslims in India is under scrutiny.

Macron faces his country’s electorate in April in a bid for re-election. Coincidentally, the last four months of his current term will coincide with the French Presidency of the Council of the EU under the six-month rotation system for this position.

Indeed, in this new year, Macron will not only intensify his campaign for a second term – which in French politics sometimes tends to become nationalist – but also guide the fate of the EU, which is a diplomatic role. It will be interesting to see how he walks a tightrope.

Xenophobic racism, immigration and Covid-19 are expected to dominate the French election campaign. Recent opinion polls indicate that the far right may drop slightly in voter esteem, which could strengthen Gaullist center-right candidate Valérie Pécresse. Le Monde estimated that Macron had played “the card of empathy” with the electorate in an interview on the widely watched television channel TF1.

The EU has started slowly in terms of vaccinating its population against Covid-19. But he ended the year comfortably under the leadership of the President of the European Commission (administrative wing of the union) Ursula von der Leyen. But in addition to tensions with Russia, his problems include resolving constitutional disputes with member states like Poland and Hungary, disputes with Turkey, and reaching a new nuclear deal with Iran.

Mary I. Bruner