EU at ‘critical point’ as Germany searches for Merkel successor

A leading economist has warned that German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s successor will have ‘big shoes to fill’ on the European stage, after describing her as ‘the continuity of Europe’.

Panicos Demetriades is a Professor of Financial Economics at the University of Leicester and has first-hand experience of the German leader’s influence following his time at the European Central Bank and as a former Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus.

Chancellor Merkel announced in 2019 her intention to step down at the end of her current term, with Germany’s next general election due in September. Former MEP Armin Laschet now leads the race to replace her, after his election as head of the ruling Christian Democratic Union party.

Professor Demetriades said:

“The EU will certainly miss her stature, while the person that is going to replace her is relatively unknown on a European stage. He is talking about ‘continuity’, which may well mean continuity for Germany, but in Europe, Chancellor Merkel has been around for 15 years.

“Think how many US Presidents she has worked with during that time, and how many French Presidents, Italian Prime Ministers… she has been rock solid. She has been the continuity of Europe.

“There are more questions to be asked of Europe in the weeks and months following her stepping down, and it remains the unanswered question whether her replacement will be able to fill the big shoes she leaves behind.”

Now, with the European bloc seeing the short-term effects of Brexit, Professor Demetriades has highlighted the need for a strong, pro-European leader to fill the void left by Merkel’s departure. He continued:

“Europe is at a critical point. We have seen for some time tendencies towards nationalism across the continent, and with Brexit not being the complete financial disaster that some predicted – we will see the full cost over time – countries on the fringes of the EU like Poland and Hungary will be watching the process closely.

“My worry is that without a figure like Merkel, who could win these people back and unite everyone together, I’m not sure if that could continue.
“Whoever is leader of Germany plays a key role in continuing the project for peace in Europe. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what the EU is.

“Merkel’s influence has come from her diplomacy. Everyone knows that Germany is the strongest economy in Europe, but she didn’t wield that power aggressively. The way that she dealt with [the financial crisis in] Cyprus was amazing.

“Only now are people in Cyprus realising that her intervention helped saved their pensions. She genuinely cares for ordinary people and she’s a proper leader. She will leave a big gap behind.”