The fight against the virus does not require a worldwide government. Experience has taught us that these battles take place on a local level. Governments or local authorities lock down infected regions. However, in today’s globalised world, international cooperation is necessary to find a way out of the economic crisis. A charismatic politician with international recognition, a transnational institution or control of one of the world’s leading nation states may be able to steer us out of the disaster. Is Angela Merkel’s Germany up to the challenge?
Germany missed the mark with its initial response to the outbreak. It blocked any assistance and banned exports of medical equipment. It did not take Berlin long to realise its mistake though. Since then, Germany has been sharing tonnes of medical equipment and dozens of respirators with the world. Patients from across Europe have also received treatment in Germany. Opinion polls of Merkel’s government have been skyrocketing even though the Chancellor had been preoccupied with finding a successor and preparing to retire from politics. Today, it seems like she could easily stay in power beyond 2021. It is clear that no contender can be found within the CDU. Germany is in line to take over the EU Presidency in the second half of 2020. Therefore, Berlin will have the tools to lead Europe.
Angela Merkel has been in charge since 2005 and even though it may stay that way, her position and reputation are not easy to label. It gives her an edge in a potential confrontation with Emmanuel Macron, her sole contender on the Old Continent. Merkel has transformed the once patriarchal CDU into a “progressive” European party. She gave up nuclear power and ended conscription. Her administration legalised same-sex marriage and opened up Germany to the wave of refugees that started in 2015. However, the progressive offensive has cost the CDU dearly in the polls, led to the AfD’s rise and in consequence, has polarised the political scene.
In the meantime, Russia invaded Ukraine and the Franco-German Normandy Format failed to resolve the conflict. The European Union was shrunk by Brexit, which is a painful response to the idea of the ever-closer union. The Eurozone’s economy has been stagnant. Merkel has also been unable to find common ground with US President Donald Trump.
Can one lead Europe with such baggage, filled with both advantages and disadvantages? The visionary French President is a real contender here. Macron is pushing the idea of “more Europe” meaning further federalisation and a multi-speed EU. He is also advocating so-called strategic autonomy, i.e. walking away from political and military cooperation with the United States. Angela Merkel’s Germany is against such ideas. Buffing up the Eurozone would require Berlin to contribute more financially. A divided Europe would make it harder for German businesses to get access to markets not using the common currency. It is noteworthy that Berlin trades more with the Visegrad nations than with France. Finally, cutting Europe’s military ties with the United States also means that American soldiers would be moving out of the bases in Germany – thus making Europe more vulnerable to military aggression.
To fulfil certain leadership ambitions in the transatlantic area, Berlin must strive for a hegemonic position. It would transform into a global power dedicated to maintaining a certain advantageous international order. Occasionally, a political hegemon is forced to sacrifice its own national interest to that end. I believe German business circles are not eager to take that risk. The German business world has already proven that it is willing to forget about European values to enjoy lucrative economic cooperation with Russia and China. It does not prompt any questions on the rule of law, human rights, or LGBT persecution. The search for a new leader continues then.