The two biggest European powers closed their doors at a crucial time

The two biggest European powers closed their doors at a crucial time

Emmanuel Macron welcomes Angela Merkel to the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, September 16, 2021. (Reuters)

Not so long ago, an archaeologist friend of mine and I came to a striking conclusion: we have done our intellectual work entirely upside down. He, having almost nothing to do beyond shards of pottery, had to extrapolate a world from simple fragments. I, blessed or overwhelmed (take your pick) by the 24 hour news cycle, had too much information to go on; my job was to sift through oceans of data to find what was really important.
One way to do this, and to stay intellectually honest, is to occasionally analyze things at 30,000 feet – to look at a big picture of the world as if you were a passenger on a long-haul flight. This Olympian vision has a way of separating the wheat from the chaff, the essential from the insignificant. Doing it now on the two great European powers, France and Germany, clearly shows the big picture: this is a continent and (in the EU) a great power that is not suited to its purpose in our rapidly changing world. Incredibly, it won’t be open for business for at least the next eight months. At the very least, that’s not the way to make anything work.
Germany is mired in icy coalition talks following a car crash in a parliamentary election in September – in which no party received even 30 percent of the vote, while five got more by 10 percent. By far the most likely outcome will be a three-party coalition led by the Social Democratic Party, with the center-left Greens and the center-right Free Democratic Party as junior partners.
However, for such a government to be formed, vast ideological economic distances between parties must be overcome; on the benefits of further massive deficit spending geared to the environment, on how much more to bear the overall economic burden of the EU and on the continuing merits of Germany’s traditional balanced budget. It’s no wonder that filling these gargantuan gaps takes time. The general hope is that a new government will be installed by the end of the year, three months after the elections.
Just as Germany will finally have a new government, with the arrival of the new year, France will enter full electoral mode. The first round of his presidential election is due to take place on April 10 and – in the overwhelming probability that no candidate obtains a majority – the second round is expected to take place on April 24, between the top two voters in the first round.
A Harris Interactive poll in early October put outgoing President Emmanuel Macron in the lead with 24% of the vote, ahead of his right-wing populist rivals, talk show superstar Eric Zemmour (17%) and veteran Marine Le Pen (15%) . Surprisingly, France’s two traditional parties – the center-right Gaullists and the center-left socialists – lag behind these three individuals, who lead personality-driven factions rather than established party machines. As such, and given the gloomy and volatile mood of the French electorate, the outcome remains uncertain, although Macron (Harris predicted he would beat Zemmour in the second round 55-45%) remains the favorite. brittle.
What is certain is that the French legislative elections will directly follow the presidential vote, which means that the new government should be in place by early summer 2022. Now let’s take this view from 30,000 feet and think about it. again. This means that from the start of the electoral campaign in Germany (early summer 2021) until the installation of the new French government (early summer 2022), a full year will have passed. In those 12 months, the world has been mired in the historic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, full of economic, social and personal upheaval of an unprecedented nature, as Europe’s two greatest powers were on the pilot. Automatique.
The Sino-US Cold War erupted on the scene, calling for a decisive EU stance on how to strategically deal with a rising China and ally (or not) with the traditional US ally. Not only has the EU failed to concoct a common policy towards China, it appears to have around three when it comes to America, ranging from German mercantilist neutralism to French Gaullism and European Atlanticism. from the East and the North. The 30,000-foot view makes it clear that a common foreign policy stance on this most crucial strategic issue at the moment is simply impossible if the two largest European powers are closed for business for most of a year.

From the start of the electoral campaign in Germany until the installation of the new French government, an entire year has passed.

John C. Hulsman

The EU’s most capable advocates have always admitted that it was slow, but in the end it made thoughtful political decisions, despite the real historical record that makes this claim more than wishful thinking. . But the 30,000-foot view makes it clear that while this has been true, given the obvious times of crisis of political risk we live in, the EU as an entity – with its decision-making process already squeaky – just out of shape. for useful purposes in our rapidly changing world. Its two greatest powers are on a history-induced election vacation for a crucial 12 months.

  • John C. Hulsman is President and Managing Partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a leading global political risk consultancy. He is also a senior columnist for City AM, the City of London newspaper. He can be contacted via

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