‘Gloves are off’ on Merkel’s last day: Is this the end of European cohesion as we know it?

Merkel 'never stood up for a vision of Europe' says expert

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Angela Merkel’s replacement as German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is due to be formally elected by the Bundestag and officially take office on Wednesday. A historic agreement was signed on Tuesday, bringing to fruition the ‘traffic light’ coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP), and closing the Merkel chapter for good.

But what does this new era mean for the bloc, which has held Germany as its economic powerhouse for so many years?

According to Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, the bloc is about to head into a period of deep instability.

In a short essay on Ms Merkel’s legacy, Mr Orban said restoring cooperation between European governments would require “superhuman efforts” after the chancellor of 16-years stands down.

He wrote: “One thing is for sure: the era of ambiguity, stealth politics and drifting has ended with Merkel.

He added: “The gloves are now off as we enter a new age.”

The populist leader said Merkel understood Hungary, alluding to her background in communist East Germany.

But he described Europe’s 2015 migration crisis as a “rupture” in the relationship.

He wrote: “The migration crisis was a major test in itself.

“It became a Rubicon because it exposed the deep philosophical, political and emotional differences between us about the concept of nations, about freedom and about the role of Germany.”

He argued that “Germans are on the other path of European civilization, towards a kind of post-Christian and post-national state.”

“Restoring European cooperation will require superhuman efforts in the post-Merkel era,” he wrote.

He described the incoming coalition of Social as a left-wing government with a “pro-immigration, pro-gender, federalist, pro-German Europe agenda.”

However, the Hungarian comments aren’t likely to rattle the incoming chancellor much.

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Ms Merkel had been criticised for her soft approach to Mr Orban, who has been widely accused of undermining democratic norms and institutions at home.

Mr Orban has forged relations with far-right leaders such as France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvin in recent years, further undermining his credibility with the centre.

Some analysts have predicted the Scholz-era won’t, in fact, differ much from that of Ms Merkel.

The new government will take office promising a raft of generally progressive reforms, including a hike in the minimum wage, an early end to coal power and a rise in house-building.

But Mr Scholz provides a level of measured stability the German public have trusted for Ms Merkel’s 16 years, and he will seek to continue that.

Writing for the New Statesman, international editor Jeremy Cliffe said Mr Scholz will be likely to govern the country as he did his home city of Hamburg, where he served as First Mayor for seven years.

He wrote: “The best guide to how Scholz would act as chancellor is his time in Hamburg: recognisably social democratic but pragmatic, big-tent and loyal to German traditions of fiscal conservatism.”

Mr Cliffe added that, on international policy, Mr Scholz is likely to “represent continuity in relationships with the US and UK while edging German foreign policy closer to France”.


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