It is good news for a united Europe that is still recovering from the reverberations of economic stagnation, the backlash of the migrant crisis, Brexit and home-grown terrorism. Merkel and the French President Emmanuel Macron are now the two leaders expected to carry out much-needed EU reforms and by extension redefine Europe’s role and mission on the world stage.
Merkel is seen by a growing number of European politicians as the natural heir to an America that has gone astray following the unexpected election of Donald Trump as president last November. Trump’s pre-election anti-globalization, anti-EU and anti-NATO rhetoric had a sobering effect on a Europe that had become both complacent about, and reliant upon, US global leadership. Trump’s America First slogan was buffered by his controversial anti-immigrant executive orders, his travel bans, the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement and Trump’s vow to renegotiate international trade deals.
Merkel, therefore, may now find herself the reluctant leader of the Free World, and she is in a good position to fill that role. Germany’s economy remains strong and Berlin is the true center of European politics. It is there that the future of the EU will be decided.
More importantly for our troubled region, a strong and stable Europe can fill the vacuum being created by a retreating US. Merkel’s stand on Islam and human rights, and her unwavering opposition to far-right ultranationalist movements at home and across Europe, will be essential in the coming years.
Germany has become a major political player in the region; German troops may soon be stationed in Jordan, moving from Incirlik air base in Turkey. EU countries have contributed fighter jets and soldiers to the US-led anti-Daesh coalition.
Berlin is expected to keep the international nuclear deal with Iran intact if Trump decides to unilaterally withdraw. Merkel and Macron can provide a more pragmatic approach to resolving regional crises, including Iran, Syria, Libya and the most recent one, the move toward secession by the Kurdistan region of Iraq.
The German Chancellor’s stand on Islam and human rights, and her unwavering opposition to far-right ultranationalist movements at home and across Europe, provide world leadership at a time when the US is retreating.
Osama Al Sharif
Moreover, with US-Russian relations at their worst since the Cold War, Germany in particular and the EU in general can and should keep communication channels open with President Vladimir Putin. Russia’s political and military resurgence poses a genuine challenge for Europe and the rest of the world, and so far the US has not been able to respond to Moscow’s growing influence on the global stage.
As the US tries one more time to hammer together a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, the latter look toward Europe for evenhandedness and justice. At a time when Israel’s own far-right government unleashes the most aggressive wave of settlement building in occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank, effectively erasing the prospect of an independent Palestine, it is Europe that can put real pressure on a defiant Benjamin Netanyahu. Germany’s historical sensitivity toward Israel will be tested as the Israeli prime minister pushes forward with unilateral plans to annex most of the West Bank.
But perhaps Merkel’s biggest contribution will come in the form of presenting Europe as an example of tolerance, openness, multiculturalism and economic success. As the US engages in internal battles over isolationism, xenophobia, alt-right politics and race relations, a moderate and outreaching Europe can fill the void and Merkel will be the one to do it.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010