European Union leaders fear Angela Merkel's weakened power could be a liability for the bloc. When it comes to political heavyweights in Europe, the German chancellor has long been top of the list.
Capable of acting — that seems to be the magic word if you listen to the conversations taking place within European Union offices in Brussels. Numerous EU officials, but most of all the European Commission, are intent on making sure there is no doubt about the stability of the German government. EU politics will not suffer, the Brussels politicians say; it's business as usual, Germany has a stable government and a chancellor capable of taking action. But nevertheless, many in the EU see Chancellor Angela Merkel's partial withdrawal from politics as the self-declared loss of power for the most influential European leader. Ever since news broke that her current term as chancellor would be her last, there have been furrowed brows in Brussels.
Read more: 'Europe without Angela Merkel is possible'
Beyond Merkel's speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, most EU member states will link the chancellor deciding to step down as leader of her conservative CDU party with three key questions: What does that loss of power mean for Europe? What is going to happen to Europe's problems if Merkel is weakened? And what is going to happen — and suddenly, that seems to be a possibility — if Merkel disappears entirely from the European political scene?
1. The refugee quota
The EU is struggling to reach a compromise on this matter. So far, no agreement has been reached. To the contrary, many EU member states are facing off against one another. Merkel has been severely criticized for her refugee policies, but at the last minute, she engineered a EU refugee deal with Turkey, which calmed the situation. It is a controversial agreement that still requires majorities to enforce. Up until now, Angela Merkel has for the most part taken care of that.
2. Euro reforms and other plans
France and Germany plan on a solution to secure the euro. The eurozone should be better prepared for crises. The French president might now lose his partner for those plans. Even if the chancellor hasn't accommodated Emmanuel Macron's wish for a eurozone budget, he needs her for a comprehensive banking union, and she needs to be in a politically sound position to make that happen, including having the backing of the conservatives in the German Parliament. At the next EU summit in December, a banking union is scheduled to take shape. Italy is increasingly becoming an incalculable financial risk. Pierre Moscovici, the French European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation, and Customs, is concerned that the budget dispute could escalate if Germany does not mediate.
3. Populism in the EU
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to visualize how much further the crumbling discipline within the EU will dwindle when it comes time to reach a consensus at summits if Germany does not mediate. Without a powerful German head of government who has always managed to limit any damage among insurgent populist leaders, Hungary and Poland are bound to unabashedly forge ahead with their dismantling of the rule of law.
Günther Oettinger, the German European Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources, has supported Merkel since she announced that she would resign as CDU leader. The EU would like to see Merkel in office in Berlin for another three years; she helps bring stability to the bloc during turblent times. As a lame duck chancellor, she risks losing her influence in Europe.