Post-Merkel, Macron And Draghi Will Try To Ease Europe's Debt Rules

Coalition negotiations in Berlin will make for a period of political uncertainty that French President Emmanuel Macron is keen to exploit. He already has a new Italian partner, with whom he wants to steer the EU in a new direction.

Post-Merkel, Macron And Draghi Will Try To Ease Europe's Debt Rules

Emmanuel Macron welcomes Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi during a Summit on financing African economies in Paris

Martina Meister


BERLIN — In the coming weeks — perhaps even months — a power vacuum will reign in Berlin. But just like their colleagues in the world of science, political observers know that nature abhors a vacuum. It's just a matter of time, in other words, until the void is filled.

Does Germany's recent election mark the end of the country's leadership role in the European Union? Current coalition negotiations — which seem likely to drag on for some time — will force Berlin and Brussels to press pause. Others, in the meantime, won't be inclined to just sit quietly by and wait.

French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as the natural leader of an EU that has lost the center of gravity that Merkel long provided. Even while her chancellorship was nearing its end, Macron was already preparing to take over the EU Council presidency, which begins in January and coincides with France's own elections.

Italy won't replace Germany

The Elysée Palace is already drawing up Macron's European report card. They recently pointed out that more than half of the 60 proposals the French president put forward in his speech at the Sorbonne in September 2017 have come to fruition.

"That speech formed the backbone of our European policy," says one of Macron's advisers.

Macron will not be alone when he takes on this new leadership role. He has found an ally in Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, so much so that, when Draghi was elected earlier this year, the Financial Times speculated about "the EU's new power couple." They spoke of a new power axis between Rome and Paris, to replace the current driving forces of Germany and France. After "Mercron," can we now expect a "Dracron" axis?

Photo of Angela Merkel with flags behind her

July 2, 2019 - Bruxelles, Belgium - Angela Merkel


Draghi will play a key role

Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has also spoken of a "key role" for Rome and Paris. "At this stage of the power vacuum, the leadership role within the EU will fall to Macron and Mario Draghi," he said in an interview this past Sunday.

Dominique Moïsi, a French political scientist from the think tank Institut Montaigne, sees things a little differently. "Draghi is a kind of star and he will play a key role, but Italy won't replace Germany," he says.

Another politician who sees this as an "opportune moment" to be seized is Sandro Gozi. In his former role as the Italian government's under-secretary for European affairs, Gozi was tasked with negotiating the Quirinal Treaty, a bilateral agreement between Italy and France, modeled on the 1963 Elysée Treaty between France and West Germany and named after the Quirinal Palace in Rome, one of the three official residences of the Italian President.

That was at a difficult time in Franco-Italian relations, as Luigi Di Maio, Italy's then deputy prime minister, visited France to show support for the yellow vest protesters. The Quirinal Treaty was put on ice and Gozi switched sides, becoming a European advisor at the Elysée Palace. Now he is a member of the European Parliament, representing France.

Draghi's election victory was a stroke of luck for Macron.

"No one in Rome or Paris wants to replace the Franco-German axis, but within the EU we need to strengthen other relationships that complement it and establish new synergies," said Gozi in an interview with Die Welt. He is convinced that "the transformation of the EU will be based on three powers: Germany, France and Italy."

Draghi and Macron looking beyond Maastricht

One thing is certain: Draghi's election victory was a stroke of luck for Macron. In early September, the two had dinner together at a three-star restaurant in Marseille to celebrate Draghi's birthday. They have a lot in common: Both are staunchly pro-Europe, ex-bankers, skilled negotiators and convinced that relaxing the EU's strict national debt policies is unavoidable.

Both were among the signatories, furthermore, of a letter published in the early days of the pandemic in which nine European countries called for a "common debt instrument," which soon became central to discussions around the stability pact.

But Draghi and Macron want to go beyond Next Generation EU, the post-covid economic recovery fund. They think the Maastricht Treaty is no longer fit for purpose and believe that economic and political progress within the EU will only be made possible by relaxing rules around national debt. As the former head of the European Central Bank, which reformed the EU's monetary policy, Draghi seems almost predestined for this role.

With Italy holding the G20's rotating presidency this year, both Draghi and Macron are — or soon will be — in positions of power on the world stage. Rome and Paris hope to finally sign the ambitious Quirinal Treaty before the end of this year.

Gozi believes that close cooperation between France and Italy will ensure these issues will be at the top of the EU's agenda. "It's a response to difficult geopolitical demands," he says.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!