For Germany, the drama is one of epic dimensions. Can the country that has been at the source of so much European devastation through two world wars, resulting in lost territory and Cold War division, steady the EU through this historic test of a public health crisis, economic recession and rising U.S.-Chinese tensions?
For Angela Merkel, who held the rotating EU presidency once before in 2007, it’s a last shot at historic legacy. Can Germany’s first and only woman chancellor, who has recharged her waning standing during the coronavirus, demonstrate the leadership required to unify and shape Europe that her critics say eluded her during almost 15 years in power.
These aren’t academic questions.
“How Europe fares in this crisis compared to other regions of the world will determine both the future of European prosperity and Europe’s role in the world,” Chancellor Merkel told the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, as she assumed the EU presidency.
In her first trip outside Germany since the coronavirus lockdown this week, she made clear the stakes stretched far beyond Covid-19. “Nobody makes it through this crisis alone,” she said. “We are all vulnerable.”
Those who know Merkel best say that what drives the uncharacteristic urgency and decisiveness of Merkel’s messages is a fear that the EU could become irrelevant or even unravel from the force of Covid-19 and its economic, social and political aftereffects. She understands the challenges for the EU are of a more existential nature than those facing China, the United States or any other single country, coming even as the United Kingdom exits the Union.
China and the U.S. will emerge from the ravages of 2020 with their borders and political systems intact, yet the 27 EU members confront more fundamental questions as their citizens weigh the value EU membership has brought them in the crisis.
“We can’t allow ourselves to be naïve,” Merkel told the European Parliament this week. “In many of the member states the opponents to Europe are waiting only to misuse this crisis for their own purposes.”
Chancellor Merkel’s efforts will come to a head next Saturday, July 17, at a special EU leaders’ summit to discuss the coronavirus recovery plan and a long-term EU budget. Never has Germany supported, as Chancellor Merkel is doing now, the pooling of national debt to help harder hit parts of Europe.
It will be a test of her leadership, beside French leader Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders, whether she can convert a group of skeptics known as “the frugal four” – Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — who have resisted the scale and makeup of the $850 billion recovery plan.
Yet even as that story unfolds, Germany at the same time is at the center of an unfolding global drama. At its heart is the danger of a…
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