Post-Merkel Germany may be more open to Russia, China
By Fabio Massimo Parenti
Merkel's leadership is going to end, but she will probably remain a key figure in European institutions. Her mandate has already been too long going by Western representative democracy, considering she could survive 15 years as head of government, and more within the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Anyway the transition following last elections shrinking vote base for CDU occurs with French and UK leadership facing similar weaknesses within the European space. The gradual extinction of the traditional parties, probably to be confirmed in the next European parliament election in May, is the outcome of labor reform failure, migration crises, growing economic inequality and so on.
The starting point to speculate over a post-Merkel era and its related implications for Germany's foreign policy and European integration is the patent failure of the European Union, at least in terms of popular consensus/democratic legitimacy, it amounts to "democratic deficit". Economic recession, financial rigidity, absence of a common constitution, solidarity deficit in managing common problems - from debts to migration flow - are the manifested limits of the current state of affairs in Europe. Not only Greece, UK, Italy, and eastern European countries have been experiencing problems and facing criticism within the European institutional architecture, but also Germany, the leading country of the union. Critics abound and many people do not legitimize the EU anymore.
The last "dialogue" between commissioners and the Italian government is an example. Many experts, from the US to Europe (e.g. JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank experts and scholars), have supported the rationality behind the Italian government budget and economic policy choices, simply because the government is trying to move against the tide with respect to the past. The reasons are that austerity policies have already been proven to be ineffective and detrimental and many within the EU recognize this reality, contrary to the current EU establishment.
The post-Merkel era will generate further instability in Europe, according to some journalistic surveys. This uncertainty will create more space for action for an internal reorganization in favor of European Union reforms. The disaffection of people toward traditional parties is a reality and can be well understood due to their failed policies. The main risk is the rise of xenophobic forces with the intention of moving away from Europe and promoting blind nationalism.
More uncertainty and demand for European institutional reforms will influence Germany's foreign policy and more specifically China-Germany relations. Merkel visited China 11 times and in spite of the recent restrictions against Chinese investments in certain sectors, the economic and cultural cooperation is quite good and solid. Geopolitically, Germany is influenced by Washington and this fact limits the development of better relations. With the partial end of the Merkel era, there will be more room to develop better relations between China and Europe as a whole.
Merkel's successor in Germany will manage a partial continuity in foreign policy, focusing on "cooperation with France to reform the EU, the gradual acquisition of a European defense deterrent, and support for the European Intervention Initiative" - wrote Alex Gorka in an article for Strategic Culture Foundation. He also added another interesting comment, "The influential parties outside of the governing coalition - the Free Democratic Party, the Left, and Alternative for Germany - favor changing the German policy on Russia, prioritizing a more value-centered approach".
Europe is living through a phase of introspection and this will give more spaces for action to other geopolitical forces. At the same time, like what is happening in Italy, a post-Merkel Germany could be more open toward Russia and China.
Economically and geopolitically, Europe should be more autonomous from Washington to manage its neighborly and Eurasian relations. This is a necessity shared by business communities and many social segments in Europe. Merkel aligned with Russia for energy needs, North Stream 2, and for conserving the nuclear deal with Iran; however, she remained subordinated to Washington for sanctions on Russia, Ukraine issues and on pressuring China over Western-style "market reforms". In addition, the recent Summit of Four in Istanbul demonstrated, according to some analysts, that Russia could cooperate with EU members, to stabilize Syria. Obviously, there are many variables still open. If, for example, Friedrich Merz replaces Angela Merkel - as suggested by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - keeping distance from Washington will be impossible.
As explained in previous articles on changes in transatlantic relations, this historical period is showing, under the Trump administration and European weakness, new tensions, and also new margins for undertaking European reforms aimed at a geopolitical repositioning.
Germany can have its chance, and so Europe, which has to find a balance between US constraints, and eastern opportunities and vital linkages.
Moving gradually outside NATO would be the necessary approach of the new and uncertain European scenario, something on which Macron and Merkel wanted to work, but still in an ineffective way.
The author is associate professor of international studies, teaching at the International Institute Lorenzo de' Medici, Florence. He is also member of CCERRI think tank, Zhengzhou, and member of EURISPES, Laboratorio BRICS, Rome. His latest book is Geofinance and Geopolitics, Egea. Follow him on twitter @fabiomassimos. firstname.lastname@example.org