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Opinion | After Merkel, Europe Will Be Led By No One

But the attempt failed. After China retaliated against the European Union’s sanctions on four Chinese officials because of human rights violations in Xinjiang, the agreement went unratified. In any case, the bloc is far from unified on what economic and technological engagement with China should look like.

For Germany, economically dependent on China and pivotal for its trade routes into Europe, pragmatic cooperation seems a sensible course. But for other member states, China poses more of a threat. Strikingly, under Mr. Draghi, Italy has effectively given up on courting Chinese investment and turned more to America.

Over the past months, Ms. Merkel has been without the power she previously enjoyed. On multiple issues — the rule of law, nuclear power, defense policy and, not least, the relationship with China — Europe is profoundly divided, with little room for maneuver. Yet there’s no reason to think anybody else could fare better.

Mr. Macron’s grand plans for Europe, from deeper monetary union to increased military capacity and technological independence, are not widely supported. His government’s assumption that the European Union is already a superpower peer to both America and China sounds not just delusional but also offensive in those European capitals where America’s guarantee of security is indispensable.

Mr. Scholz, for his part, will be subject to the same economic pressures that underwrote Ms. Merkel’s approach to China. And he surely will struggle, as Ms. Merkel did, to impose his preferred orientation — a deep economic relationship with China and a security relationship with Washington — across Europe. As for Mr. Macron and Mr. Draghi, they may make common cause over several issues but they are poles apart on America and China.

The reality, starkly stated, is that neither the German chancellor nor the French government can lead Europe. The compromises their predecessors made with each other are no longer available. And in the absence of leadership, Europe is headed for one thing — stasis.

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