The European Union’s troubles continue. When Emmanuel Macron was elected president of France in 2017, with strong support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the opportunity seemed ripe for real reform of the EU. But since then, things have not gone well at home for either Merkel or Macron, and that opportunity has slipped away. In the meantime, Italy elected a populist coalition that lost no time before entering into direct confrontation with the European Commission. And as the Brexit tragedy heads toward a climax, it is clear only that the stage will be littered with bodies before it ends, but the dénouement remains murky.
Political turmoil in these four countries spells trouble for the European Union, the world’s second-largest economy, of which these “big four” countries account for the lion’s share. To assess the implications, let us survey the political landscape.
START WITH GERMANY. At the end of October, Angela Merkel announced that she would step down as chair of the Christian Democratic party (CDU) in December and seek no further elective office. Commentators who had previously been trumpeting the two recent electoral debacles that led to this announcement, first in Bavaria and then in Hesse, abruptly changed their tone to praise the dignified ending Merkel had devised for her own story. It was as if everyone sought to paraphrase Shakespeare, to the effect that nothing in her tenure became her like the leaving of it.