Presidents come and go but the chancellor stays: That’s the way things have been going for 12 years between France and Germany. After Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande, the man who moved into the Elysee Palace in May is Angela Merkel’s fourth interlocutor in Paris.
Changes of government in Paris have become more or less routine for the German leader, so to speak. But this time around, something’s different: Emmanuel Macron is the first French head of state since the turn of the millennium who hasn’t made the European Union the scapegoat for the economic and political malaise in his country. Mr. Macron embraces the EU instead of maligning it. He won two major elections with this strategy — the presidential and the parliamentary — unceremoniously sweeping the established parties out of his way.
That’s why a lot of Europeans have pinned more political hope on the new Franco-German couple than they did with previous constellations. And there is another critical factor coming into play: The Europeans feel threatened from the outside. The influx of refugees, autocratic leaders like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin in Russia, wars at Europe’s outer edges, a less friendly US president and regular terrorist attacks are all triggering existential fears thought to be a thing of the past in this part of the world.
It became clear all of a sudden that peace and prosperity, democracy and the rule of law are not to be taken for granted. It is also clear that we need shrewd leaders who have the will and ability to guarantee us free, secure and good lives in the future.