She is the longest-serving leader in the European Union, having worked with four French presidents and numerous Italian Prime Ministers.
Now, in the twilight of her career, German Chancellor Angela Merkel takes over Germany’s second EU presidency on her watch.
The first time, in 2007, she was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Lisbon, the constitutional basis of the EU. This time she has to stave off an economic collapse in the wake of a devastating pandemic. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
“We are aware of the fact that there are high expectations of Germany’s presidency,” Merkel said in her podcast on 27 June.
“We want to live up to these expectations by striving for all of us to come out of the crisis unharmed and for Europe to be prepared for the future. Only together can we succeed in living our European values and defending them against others: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”
So far Europe’s economy has mostly re-opened, albeit timidly. Many sectors remain in need of public support, yet the EU is still struggling over a common recovery package, as national interests have dominated the conversation.
As the virus has made new inroads recently, many observers believe that Merkel is uniquely qualified to forge a compromise.
“Her experience; her knowledge of the other European leaders; her psychological understanding of what they want and need and her empathy; particularly for smaller countries and the newer Eastern European countries are really important as a prerequisite for being able to broker a consensus on managing the pandemic, a historic economic crisis and what is also an institutional crisis both at nation-state level and at European level,” explains Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institute.
Despite Merkel’s perceived empathy for smaller EU countries, her partner of choice has clearly been France.
A few weeks ago, the chancellor together with President Emmanuel Macron presented a common recovery plan for Europe worth 500 billion euros.
A bilateral effort that didn’t surprise anyone.
“Without taking the other most important capital on board, nothing much is going to be delivered,” says Reinhard Bütikofer, German MEP (Greens).
“I would still not believe that the French and the Germans on their own could provide enough leadership for the EU, but without Paris and Berlin, nothing ever materializes.”
On the eve of the German Presidency, Merkel invited Macron over to the government guest house north of Berlin.
Both were seen plotting strategy.
As Merkel said afterwards, “Germany and France want to play a joint role in the coming months”.