Macron defeated Le Pen. Merkel managed to avert a political crisis in Germany. And since both got (back) in power the time seemed to have come for the Franco-German alliance to grow closer than ever and get the European Union (EU) moving. It constituted the beginning of an EU paradise.
The right timing
The timing for the EU was right. After a refugee crisis and a near-collapse of the Euro before that, the Union needed its strongest members to stand up and take the lead. With Germany and France moving closer together and having a clear will to move forward, the first step was made. But even a perhaps-soon-to-turnout-catastrophe Brexit was a blessing in disguise. After all, the Brits have constantly pushed the brakes in terms of the European project moving forward and all of a sudden, they didn’t matter anymore. To make matters even easier: the economies of the Eurozone, and the broader whole of the EU are on the rise, and the intricate migration issue was tackled by the controversial Turkey deal. A European paradise was created with a strong Franco-German axis.
The tides have changed
But the tides have changed. With the Brits gone, another Member State has arisen as the EU’s main problem: Italy. A surprising victory of a populist get-together with a clear anti-EU agenda will now continuously push the brakes on the European agenda. But not only Italy will cause trouble. The migration issue that seemed to be (at least temporarily) addressed by the Turkey deal was given a second life thanks to a combination of factors.
The Visegrad group refuses to stick to a quota system and basically has turned against the Germans on every issue because of this, and both Malta and Italy recently refused to welcome a boat of refugees, causing a PR-storm to rage over the European continent. Although a deal was made, it came at a cost: Minister of Interior and leader of the CSU, Horst Seehofer, threatened to resign because of this deal. This caused Germany to tumble into political chaos and is believed to halt the entire European project until its biggest economy has stabilized its domestic issues.
But it’s more than the tides
This German political crisis and the fact that Macron now stands alone in the liberal and progressive tone in the EU was caused by the recent events described above. But the root causes were actually in place long before this.
First of all, after Merkel’s ‘win’, the one thing everyone noticed is that the CDU hasn’t been this weak since the Second World War. Therefore, in order to not lose more territory and listen to the constituencies, however controversial they may be, Merkel should have changed her tone slightly. This would perhaps slow the European project down, but once she would have stabilized her position, she would have been able to move forward full throttle.
Second, Brexit was a blessing in disguise, if the Dutch wouldn’t have existed. The Dutch aligned with the Brits on multiple occasions to slow down European integration. However, since the Brits were the hardliners, the Germans kept the Dutch close. With the Brits gone and the Dutch not deploying hardline tactics – after all, it was sliming Rutte that won, not angry Wilders – the Germans forgot about them, not believing they would cause trouble.
But the neighbors of the West noticed that the European train would start moving fast, too fast for them. And Rutte’s smiles managed to form an exceptional alliance. The Visegrad group, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, and the Baltics found a leader in the Netherlands. Rutte united them and managed to create a force against the Franco-German axis. This was exemplified at the latest Migration meeting. Although claimed as a breakthrough, no clear promises were made and it rained opt-outs, precisely as Rutte and his companions wanted.
Survival of the fittest
There is trouble in paradise, but thankfully, Merkel has received the message. After she banned Macrons plans for a deeper integrated Eurozone to the garbage can, she now has to deal with internal rebellion. This may include taking a harder stance on matters such as migration. But in times where the Dutch are no longer your ally, the EU is dependent on a stable Germany, and since pragmatism wins over vision, Merkel needs to step up. Frau Merkel, keep the eyes on the prize and do what is necessary to survive this storm.
Author: Koen Durlinger