French President Emmanuel Macron, along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are highly regarded as the two leading European Union figureheads that have huge influence on Brussels when critical decision and strategy moves have to be made. Both have been vocal since the historic Brexit referendum from 2016 and have been strong critics of the UK’s departure from the bloc, which will be complete at the end of the transition period on December 31. Mr Macron in particular has piled the pressure on Brussels during the EU’s trade negotiations with Britain, warning French fishermen in particular must have continued access to UK waters as part of any agreement.
But along with Brexit, the EU faces a critical year, especially with Ms Merkel, described by many as the de facto leader of the European Union, stepping down from power in Germany.
In October 2018, she announced she would stand down as leader of the CDU at the party convention, and would not seek a fifth term as Chancellor in 2021 after remaining in the post for more than 15 years.
Mr Macron faces his own pressures over the next 18 months, with preparation ongoing as he seeks to win another term as President during the French election in May 2022.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the Bow Group think tank, has warned the departure of Ms Merkel will accelerate moves from the French President to take her place as the EU’s leading figurehead.
He argued Mr Macron may jump on this opportunity to create an “EU superstate in his image, which should terrify advocates of democracy and sovereignty”.
Mr Harris-Quinney told Express.co.uk: “Macron has been vying to take her (Angela Merkel’s) place for some time, and her leaving office will accelerate this process.
“He is a more extreme Euro federalist than Merkel and will likely seize the opportunity to create an EU superstate in his image, which should terrify advocates of democracy and sovereignty.”
Anand Menon, Director at the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, said the departure of Ms Merkel could work in favour of Mr Macron as it could enable him to build French influence and his own profile ahead of the Presidential elections in 2022.
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He told this website: “The departure of Angela Merkel is a huge moment for the EU, and nobody knows how Germany or the bloc will cope without her.
“But Merkel’s departure could work in Maron’s favour, as he could increase his own profile and French influence if Germany does not step up to the plate.”
Wyn Grant, Politics Professor at the University of Warwick, warned Mr Macron could be allowed to flex his muscles more on the EU stage if he is re-elected as French President, but warned the reception from the remaining 26 member states might not be overly welcoming.
He said: “Macron is more of a federalist than Merkel who is an inherent consensus seeker, but he is also constrained by the weaknesses of his power base in France.
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“If he was re-elected, he might then be less restrained, but France can’t tell the other 26 member states what to do.
“They are powerful, but they can be outvoted.”
Kostas Maronitis, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Leeds Trinity University, warned Ms Merkel’s departure will be a monumental loss to the EU and Germany, and will raise the question over whether France can rise as the leading member state.
He said: “No other leader has been in a such powerful and influential position as Merkel has been.
“Her influence is not only a result of her personal qualities but more importantly of Germany’s political and economic strength.
“The departure of Merkel will raise to questions: Is a German EU still viable and desirable? Can France and by association Macron rise as the leading member state?”