Brexit, the refugee fight, ascendant populists.
For much of the past year, Europe’s demise seemed to be more a question of ‘when’ than ‘if.’
All the more surprising then to see the Continent starting to get its mojo back.
It’s not just the string of victories by pro-European politicians from Austria to the Netherlands to France. Whether in terms of economic performance, plans for a common defense or even Brexit, the European Union has shown uncharacteristic resilience in recent months.
“It looks as though European cooperation rests on a more stable foundation than it appeared a year ago after all,” Germany’s conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine daily concluded over the weekend.
The doomsayers were right about one thing — Europe’s political winds are shifting. Just not the way most anticipated.
Consider Emmanuel Macron. Even after his convincing victory over Marine Le Pen for the French presidency last month, there were doubts he could carry that momentum through the parliamentary elections. Some observers even predicted Macron, without a parliamentary majority, was destined to become a “lame duck” president.
Macron’s vision for taking Europe forward is as bold as it is controversial.
Instead, he’s on course to secure a commanding majority in the French parliament. Unlike his predecessor, who struggled with a slim majority, Macron’s La République En Marche (Republic on the Move) party is likely to dominate the National Assembly.
That suggests he’ll have the votes necessary to push through labor market and other tricky economic reforms widely considered crucial to reviving the French economy.
One French television pundit was so bowled over by the magnitude of the En Marche first-round win that he called it a “revolution.”
The real revolution may not visit France, however, but Europe.
For Europe, the significance of the French vote is that for the first time since the introduction of the euro, the Continent’s second-largest country has a leader with the will and the mandate to pursue a deep reform of the European Union.
Macron’s vision for taking Europe forward, which includes plans for a common eurozone budget, a finance minister and even a separate parliament for the currency bloc, is as bold as it is controversial.
Its fate, as with so much else in Europe these days, rests east of Rhine.
Some in Germany see Macron as Europe’s last chance after years of persistent crisis. Macron’s maiden visit to Berlin as president last month even prompted a pro-EU demonstration of adherents to his vision in front of the German chancellery.
The question is whether Angela Merkel is ready to lock arms with her new French partner.
The German leader, if the polls can be believed, is all but assured victory in September’s general election. Some Merkel watchers predict she will then embrace an ambitious EU reform in order to secure her legacy.
Merkel’s next term is likely to be her last. And though she has been chancellor for more than a decade, Merkel has built her reputation primarily as a crisis fighter. From the eurozone debt crisis to the refugee influx, Merkel has been on the front lines of the effort to keep Europe intact.
Will she use her final years in office to secure the EU’s future and her place in history as something more than an able steward?
Even if that’s her will, it’s unclear her center-right bloc will let her. Macron’s vision rests on some form of collectivization of European debt, an idea that remains anathema to many Germans.
Then there’s the rest of Europe. Not everyone, especially Eastern Europe, is enthusiastic about restarting the Franco-German “engine.”
Merkel’s challenge will be to convince not just her party and her country that Europe is worth the risk, but the rest of the EU as well.
She need only gesture across the English Channel to make her point.
Just as liberal, pro-European forces are consolidating power in France and Germany, the U.K. appears to be descending into a political netherworld.
By calling early elections, Theresa May was hoping for a clear mandate in Brexit negotiations, due to begin later this month. Now, it’s not even clear she’ll still be prime minister by week’s end.
“New elections are likely” — Norbert Röttgen, German conservative MP
To add insult to injury, not even Donald Trump wants to visit her anymore.
After an initial jolt of Schadenfreude over the Tories’ misfortune, European officials have begun to regard the U.K.’s situation with something more akin to pity.
In Berlin, members of Merkel’s Christian Democrats expressed concern over the stability of the British government.
“New elections are likely,” predicted Norbert Röttgen, a prominent conservative MP and former government minister.
It’s not just politicians who are worried.
A Berlin-based BBC correspondent reported on Sunday that a Catholic priest in the city had asked his parishioners “to pray for the people of Britain at this difficult time.”
For now at least, Europe would appear to be a safer place for the flock.