Byline: Stryker McGuire (With William Underhill in Dusseldorf, Juliane Von Reppert-Bismarck in Brussels Andtracy Mcnicoll in Paris)
For the better part of a decade, he bestrode Europe like few other politicians--a truly transformative leader in the tradition of a Thatcher or de Gaulle. Tony Blair was often divisive. He was never the ardent European many hoped. Yet, as he prepares to stand down as prime minister, the question inevitably arises: who, in Europe, can fill his shoes?
Probably not his all-but-certain successor, Gordon Brown, at least not soon. The searing experience of Iraq has left Britain mired in cynicism about government, and Brown will have his hands full trying to repair the damage.
Nor can a new French president expect to play the heavyweight in Europe's affairs. For the foreseeable future France's fixation will be its own troubled economy--and an accompanying crisis of national identity. Italy's Romano Prodi and Spain's Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero are middleweight powers, sidelined by their own problems at home. Arise, then, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, champion of Europe.
She was "the girl" to Helmut Kohl, the father of unification and a titan of his age. Yet not even Kohl--for a variety of historical reasons, now …