Natalie Nougayrède writes: That Helmut Kohl, the man who oversaw the reunification of Germany and was for so long a giant on the European stage, should die on the eve of negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU seems symbolic. The former German chancellor made the best of the extraordinary circumstances and public mood that followed the collapse of communism and the opening up of eastern Europe.
Today’s European leaders are, by contrast, confronted with an especially adverse set of circumstances. Trump, Putin, Erdoğan, terrorism, unprecedented flows of migration, unemployment, the rise of populism and, of course, Brexit. But, just as Kohl and his French contemporary François Mitterrand relaunched the European project in the early 1990s, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron are, as Britain prepares to leave, readying their ambitions and vision for the continent.
At stake is no less than Europe’s role in defending liberal democratic values and a rules-based international order at a time when – as one former Obama administration official put it to me recently – Trump’s America is “missing in action and the UK is disappearing into oblivion”. The words may be harsh, but they underscore that Britain’s central weakness lies not only in its internal political confusion – but also with a dangerous ignorance of what its European neighbours are setting their sights on.
The Franco-German engine is not focusing on Brexit but rather on consolidating the 60-year-old European project through further integration and cooperation. At the heart of this stands an emerging Macron-Merkel deal, intended to act as Europe’s new powerhouse. On 15 May, the French and German leaders met and spoke of a new “roadmap” for the EU. The thinking goes like this: in the next two to three years, as France carries out structural economic reforms to boost its credibility, Germany will step up much-needed European financial solidarity and investment mechanisms, and embrace a new role on foreign policy, security and defence. [Continue reading…]