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September 20, 2021

When long-standing and influential German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaves office after the country’s upcoming federal election, many political pundits will be keeping an eye on France. That’s because experts think that France — and specifically, President Emmanuel Macron — is waiting in the wings for an opportunity to try to replace Germany as Europe’s de facto leader and arguably, the region’s superpower.

Macron is likely to attempt to become Europe’s central figurehead once Merkel leaves, analysts say and has been positioning himself to achieve that for a while. “As regards Macron, we already see tentative attempts to take leadership in Europe,” Carsten Brzeski, global head of macro at ING.

He pointed to “Macron’s interventions when it comes to European debates on fiscal rules.” France has called for the EU to relax rules regarding member states’ budget deficits and debt-to-GDP levels, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, while Germany has traditionally opposed any loosening of the rules that are meant to restrain deficits and debt.

“Germany is currently too much occupied with itself to really care but strong French leadership without a German counterweight has hardly ever been appreciated in Berlin,” Brzeski noted. One thing that might mollify Germany, Brzeski noted, was that it knows that Macron has his own presidential battles to come, with a French presidential election due next April. “This will leave less time for strong European leadership initiatives, even though France will have the EU presidency next year,” Brzeski said.

″[I] guess that the real test case will come after the French elections, in case Macron gets re-elected. We could then see a more powerful attempt to grab European leadership. This gives any next German chancellor around a year to grow into Merkel’s shoes,” he said.

Who would Macron prefer in Germany?
Like the rest of Europe, France is closely following the course of the election campaign in Germany and will have watched the rise in popularity of the center-left Social Democratic Party with interest.
The party’s candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is the current finance minister and vice-chancellor and, as such, is no stranger to the responsibilities of high office or other leaders in Europe. Macron welcomed both Scholz and rival Armin Laschet to the Elysee Palace in early September. Notably absent was an invitation to Germany’s Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock.