It could take weeks or even months of coalition talks before Merkel’s successor takes over as chancellor – a tense period during which they will not be available for major EU initiatives of which the French leader has a long list.
This is especially inopportune for Macron as France takes over the rotating six-month EU presidency at the start of next year and France faces it’s own presidential elections in April.
France is likely to want progress on EU defence cooperation in the wake of a spat with Australia, Britain and the United States sparked by a lost submarines contract.
Macron is also expected to seek a fresh programme to get the bloc’s economies on their feet again post-Covid, and some initiatives on migration – all topics that require weighty German support.
“There probably won’t be a German team ready for action” when France takes the EU helm on January 1st, Francois Heisbourg, special advisor at the FRS strategic research foundation, told AFP.
France will also have to factor in the reality that after 16 years of Merkel, her boots are too big to be filled by any successor.
“It is clear that the next chancellor will not have the same weight on the European and international scene as Merkel has today,” said Alexandre Robinet-Borgomano, head of the Germany programme at the Institut Montaigne think tank.
“This could become a problem for the French president, once the immediate joy at becoming the stronger partner in the French-German couple has faded,” he said.
Inevitably, Macron will need to learn how to deal with whoever becomes Germany’s next leader.
“With Merkel goes the user manual,” said Heisbourg. “We knew who we were dealing with. We will again, but it will take time.”
French government sources say they have no strong preference between election favourite Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, and Merkel-backed Armin Laschet of the Christian Democrats.
“They are both Macron-compatible,” said one government source.
Laschet is a Rhinelander and steeped in the tradition of cooperation with France along the lines of Germany’s first post-war chancellor, Konrad Adenauer.
Scholz, meanwhile, built up goodwill with Paris as finance minister for leading the EU post-Covid recovery plan together with his counterpart Bruno Le Maire, and pushing through the first-ever pooling of eurozone debt.
Things look a little trickier for Paris when it comes to potential junior coalition partners teaming up with either the CDU or the SPD.
Financial orthodoxy defended by the liberal FDP party may well get in the way of any Macron plan for a second EU recovery plan.
Depending on FDP support as chancellor could force Scholz into less flexibility over fresh debt than he showed in the past, French sources say.
The Greens, also tipped as possible members of a German coalition, would be much more supportive of new spending.
They might also support some defence initiatives, such as committing German troops to conflict zones, Heisbourg said, a taboo subject across much of Germany’s political spectrum where memories of last century’s militarism are still raw.
Macron’s patience may be tested again once Germany’s coalition is in place, as the new government focuses on its domestic agenda before tackling any EU and global questions, sources in France fear.
Scholz, for one, wants quick action on a minimum wage, tax reform and caps on runaway rent levels.
“France may have to wait,” Robinet-Borgomano said.
At even that may not be the end of it as the French-German waiting game is reversed, he said: Soon it will be Germany’s turn to wait for the outcome of French presidential elections in April of next year before tackling any major new projects at the EU level.