Thank God she’s leaving! Merkel’s exit means Germany can finally take on China and Russia

Merkel ‘under pressure’ to put Nord Stream 2 on hold says expert

However, given there is still no certainty over who will be replacing the 64-year-old later this year, the future remains uncertain – with experts highlighting the issue of relations with the two superpowers as an enormous challenge for a post-Merkel German government. Mrs Merkel, who has been Germany’s leader since 2005, last year announced her decision to step down in 2021.

Last month, Armin Laschet narrowly defeated Friedrich Merz to become the leader of Mrs Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), replacing Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer.

Mr Laschet, who is seen as closely aligned with Mrs Merkel ideologically, is not the only contender – Markus Soeder, leader of coalition partners the Christian Social Union (CSU) is also in the mix, as is health minister Jens Spahn.

Whoever eventually get the nod, Noah Barker, a managing editor with the research firm the Rhodium Group, said relations with Beijing and Moscow will be high on the agenda.

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He told CNBC: “There is a great deal of pressure to be stricter with China.

“Under Merkel, Germany did not really have red lines. That needs to change.

“Europe needs to develop stricter boundaries with China.”

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Mr Barkin added: “There is a great deal of pressure for change from lawmakers in the Bundestag but also from outside.

“German allies like India, Japan, Canada are all hiking the pressure on Germany, it will be much more difficult for Germany just to sit on the fence in the future.”

Daniela Schwarzer, director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, said: “It is impossible given these developments to go back to the old policy approach which basically entailed a lot of understanding for Russia.

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“China is both a rival and a partner for Germany in many respects. Companies in the European powerhouse rely on its huge consumer market to sell their products.

“The main problem with China is that there isn’t a level playing field for foreign firms, as it keeps its market tightly regulated, if not closed, for outsiders.

“That’s a huge challenge for the new German government. The new government needs to raise awareness of the threat posed by the competitor China.”

Nevertheless, there are no guarantees of any dramatic toughening up of Germany’s policy towards either China or Russia, especially if Mr Laschet, who has sometimes been dubbed mini-Merkel, gets the nod.

Speaking to Express.co.uk last month, German former MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel warned: “Laschet seems to be more a buddy than a foe of Putin. Laschet is also an adamant supporter of Nord-Stream 2.”

Meanwhile in a guest article for German newspaper Spiegel, Michael Roth (SPD), Minister of State in the Foreign Office, said it was crucial for German not to kowtow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mr Roth wrote: “When it comes to our values and interests, we mustn’t shy away from debates.

“Ultimately, we must and can do both: keep the most resilient channels open for solving common problems and speak plainly in direct dealings with Moscow.

“The more difficult our relationship with Russia, the clearer our language should be.

“We must leave no doubt that our core values are non-negotiable for us Europeans.”

(Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg)

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