Angela Merkel: the right leader at the right time?

Germany takes over the EU Council presidency today, July 1. As during Germany's last presidency in 2007, Chancellor Angela Merkel is still leading the country. Observers see getting the EU through the coronavirus crisis and rebuilding the economy as her most important task. While most believe she can achieve this, others have their doubts.

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Der Spiegel (DE) /

Merkel doesn't need to please anymore

The fact that Merkel will soon be leaving politics could now work in the EU's favour, writes Der Spiegel:

“With this Council presidency the Chancellor can take steps that politicians usually shy away from. ... Merkel has reached the end of her political career. She does not want to be re-elected. So she no longer needs to show so much consideration and can use the Council presidency to press ahead with projects that are not hugely popular with her home audience, particularly the conservative part of it. ... There are many fairly drastic developments ahead. The resistance will be considerable, both within Germany and within the EU. But it's Merkel's successors who will have to deal with that.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Don't expect miracles

It is by no means certain that the German Chancellor will use her advantageous starting position to make significant progress in the EU, Les Echos interjects:

“The Franco-German tandem is solid, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is an ally, she knows the Easterners as well as she does the 'frugal' four, who should accept the proposed budget package without too much difficulty. Will Angela Merkel help Europe make a quantum leap? Unlikely. Yes, obstacles will no doubt be overcome. But with her we shouldn't expect any major breakthroughs to a 'new world', which 'will never be the same again', a common refrain in Southern Europe.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Historic turnaround possible

Merkel could risk a paradigm shift, Berlin correspondent Paolo Valentino speculates in Corriere della Sera:

“Under Merkel's cautious aegis, great and rich Germany never took the initiative, never designed a future and led from behind - if at all. Or as was the case in the financial crisis of 2010, it rejected the great act of European solidarity that would probably have allowed us to tell a different story today. Due to various factors it is now quite possible that the Chancellor will jump over her shadow and do today what she did not do ten years ago, namely propose partial mutualisation of the debt.”

Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Ukraine forgotten in the crisis

Lidya Primachenko of the European Expert Association fears in Ukrayinska Pravda that the EU will pay little attention to its neighbouring regions in the next six months:

“Germany is preparing very carefully for its EU Council presidency. A defeat in the bid to save the European economy must be avoided at all costs. If only because it would strengthen the position of the radical anti-European forces that will no doubt try to destabilise the European Union from within. ... Given the complexity of the internal challenges, it is clear that the EU will mainly focus on its own affairs until the end of the year. Therefore an increased focus on Ukraine, complemented by large projects and financial aid, cannot be expected.”

Český rozhlas (CZ) /

Overcome the crisis with Merkel at the helm

Nothing could be better for the EU now than the start of the German EU Council presidency, Český rozhlas is convinced:

“'Germany must help neighbouring countries to revitalise their economies,' said Angela Merkel recently, and that was not just empty words. Germany is an export economy, and plays a key role in the prosperity of the entire Union. Germany made a historic turn when it agreed to European debt. For fear that the southern states would otherwise collapse. ... During the last German Presidency in 2007, the Union was also in a crisis - blocked as a result of the impasse over the European Constitutional Treaty. Back then a breakthrough, followed by institutional reform, was negotiated - by Angela Merkel.”

Tageblatt (LU) /

Corona getting Europe straightened out

The coronavirus crisis has strengthened cohesion in the EU, Tageblatt says:

“Many people have realised that all Europeans are in the same boat. The virus has hit all the economies hard. Only together can we get out of the crisis. In Germany, too, the willingness to help has grown. Because people understand that the German economy needs a prospering environment. What's more, suddenly there is a lot of money. ... The upcoming presidency is therefore also a personal opportunity for Angela Merkel. Because during the Greek crisis she and then finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble were left with the reputation of not showing genuine solidarity. That was never true. But she was always concerned about all aid being sustainable. Now more people in Southern Europe are likely to acknowledge this.”

Naftemporiki (GR) /

Southern countries must now show discipline

Hopefully the Chancellor has shown the right way forward for the EU with the reconstruction plan, Naftemporiki writes:

“If the Franco-German plan is accepted by the 27 despite several objections, it will enable a Europe freed from the British burden to take a new leap forward. ... The time when an entire group of European countries will collectively incur debt is not far off. In this sense the German Europe which many spoke of during the euro crisis is not an option for Merkel. The outgoing chancellor has opted for a European Germany, and in this regard the French, Italians, Spaniards and Greeks should show that they can grow without getting too deep into debt, and avoid waste resulting from nepotism.”

Respekt (CZ) /

Measured and balanced approach to keep EU united

Respekt believes it knows what's at the top of Berlin's agenda for its Coucil presidency:

“Clearly, achieving a compromise on two key financial issues: the budget for the next seven years and the fund for recovery after the pandemic. ... Germany will become truly powerful in the coming six months. However it won't push through its vision of Europe but will focus on the fulfilment of its principles. As a country that lies at the heart of the EU not just geographically but also in terms of its opinions, it will focus on a measured and balanced approach. And thus keep the European edifice together.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Merkel will be leading from the front

The chancellor is in a strong position as Germany's EU Council presidency begins, The Guardian writes with relief:

“Before Covid-19 struck, she was viewed as a lame-duck leader, having announced her intention to stand down in 2021. Instead, Germany's assured handling of the epidemic has enhanced her authority and provided the political capital to take necessary risks in what has become a crisis presidency. Germany has sometimes been criticised for 'leading from behind'. For the next six months, Ms Merkel will be leading from the front. For the EU, at a time when the stakes have never been higher, that is good news.”

Duma (BG) /

Will the "call girl" be emancipated?

Duma wonders whether the EU will stop dancing to the US's tune now:

“Europe is trying to step out of the role of a 'call girl' who satisfies Washington's every hegemonic wish. That, at least, is the gist of what Angela Merkel said in her interview [with several European newspapers last week] and what Emmanuel Macron said to Vladimir Putin [in a video conference on Friday]. ... However, when asked whether it was time for the EU to gain strategic autonomy and true sovereignty, Merkel said that the EU should think about it, but only if America wants to give up its role as a world power. So Europe would not seek sovereignty out of inner necessity but as a result of external circumstances. If so, it can be assumed that Europe will remain the US's 'call girl' even after the US presidential elections on November 3.”