Christmas is coming and this is the time to have a look at the family album. And I’m not talking about the pictures where granny was still with us, but about those of the larger European family. In a picture that is just a few years old, we can see then Austrian Chancellor Werner Feymann and former Croatian Prime-Minister Zoran Milanović. Not only have they disappeared since, but even their successors are nowhere to be seen.
Digging up some yet older pictures, only three of those featured are still in position: Angela Merkel, Viktor Orbán and Jean-Claude Juncker, albeit in a different position. Juncker only has a few months left in his position and it is hard to judge who is more eagerly awaiting his retirement: himself, the whole of Europe or perhaps the alcohol retailers of Luxembourg.
Merkel would like to stay chancellor until the 2021 elections but her earlier departure is increasingly likely.
Looking at the family photo taken at the most recent EU summit, by 2022 there will only be three leaders standing: Orbán, Emmanuel Macron and possibly Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (though given the latest developments in France, Macron’s position isn’t that solid).
But let us have a look at the crises Europe has maneouvred itself into in the past few years.
While Germany does have institutional and economic stability, it lacks political and personnel stability. Formally it is still in the Merkel-era, put in practice that era is over and a future three-party broad coalition is unlikely to happen again.
In France, recent protests have eroded Macron’s position and he was forced to make concessions that will cost about ten billion euros, which may or may not soothe protesters but will put a sizeable hole in the budget.
The Brits are effectively out of the picture. Theresa May only managed to hold onto her position by promising not to run for office again.
In Italy the government may be popular and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini may be heading Western Europe’s probably most popular party, but it is sitting on a huge mountain of public debt: 2,300 billion euros equivalent to 133% of the country’s GDP.
These are the EU’s four key countries, but the smaller ones also have their share of problems. Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands and Portugal – and to some extent the Czechs – looks stable, but there is trouble in most other states.
So it is about time for those European elections and the fresh air they may bring.