Roundup: Merkel's political retreat met concern in European countries

Wednesday, 2018-10-31 13:59:31
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French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte attend a press conference after the meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Reuters
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An announcement by Angela Merkel to step down from the leadership of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and leave German politics after her current term as chancellor has been met with concern in many European capitals over its wider implications for the continent.

French president Emmanuel Macron described the gradual retreat which Merkel initiated during a meeting of senior CDU officials on October 29 as "extremely graceful" and praised her long-standing engagement on behalf of the European Union (EU). However, he also warned that the development was "not re-assuring" during a time when far-right movements were gaining traction throughout the bloc.

Poland's foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz similarly expressed respect for Merkel's decision, while vowing that his country would continue to cooperate closely her while she remained in power. He added that the 64-year-old was guaranteed a place in history books for the "important role" she had played in the EU during past years.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera wrote that Europe would mourn Merkel's departure as a whole. "The Germans who had her as chancellor since 2005 have survived the worst economic crisis of a century unharmed. And we European, who have experienced her hesitancy, but also her ability to always do the right thing when it was necessary and there was no alternative."

Although Merkel's decision not to run for a fifth term as chancellor may not be surprising in itself, her surrender of the CDU leadership in the middle of the current legislative period was seen by some as a development which could significantly weaken her hand in Brussels.

"Much will be determined by who succeeds her in the CDU leadership," Guntram Wolff, director of the Bruegel think-tank, said. Wolff predicted that she could struggle to make further progress with reforms of joint EU migration policy and the Eurozone single currency area unless the role is filled by an ally of the chancellor who backs her positions in the German federal parliament as well.

In light of such concerns, the Spanish daily El Mundo cautioned that the reverberations of Merkel's gradual resignation were unlikely to be confined to Germany alone. "Merkel is not just Europe. Together with France. She has vigorously defended values for many years which have made Europe to one of the areas in the democratic world with the greatest prosperity and progress.

El Mundo added that Merkel's retreat was also bad news for the EU because it faced "difficult challenges in the coming years", such as the departure of the United Kingdom and the consolidation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU).