Official campaigning for Germany’s election has not yet begun, but already Angela Merkel is on the offensive. Visiting German troops in Kosovo a few days ago, she struck a pose which sent a clear message: ‘I am the Chancellor-in-waiting’. If, as polls predict, Merkel defeats Gerhard Schroeder in September, what will become of the Franco-German engine that traditionally powers European integration ? Certainly, nobody expects her to have Schroeder’s chemistry with French President Jacques Chirac. And there are differences in substance, not just in style. While Chirac advocates Turkish membership of the EU, Merkel believes Ankara should be no more than a privileged associate. The German opposition leader has jumped on the French rejection of the EU constitution as a signal that people are worried about the bloc’s future borders.
Iraq could be another bone of contention. While Merkel rules out sending troops there, she thinks the Franco-German axis against the US during the war was responsible for the split within Europe as soon-to-be EU members cosied up toWashington. Unlike Schroeder and Chirac, Merkel considers the idea of a multipolar world of counterweights to the United States divisive and futile – that will be music to George W Bush’s ears if she wins. In short, a Merkel-Chirac tandem is unlikely to run as smoothly as some previous partnerships, notably that of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand. However, a win by Chirac’s rival Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 would have the French and German leaders pedalling in the same direction again, as his views are closer to Merkel’s. Crucially, if she emerges victorious, Merkel will tell Chirac in no uncertain terms that, without major economic reforms in both countries, the Franco-German alliance will continue to lose its lustre.