Today Germany takes over the EU’s six-month rotating presidency, facing the biggest challenge Europe – and the world – has faced in the past decades. As Politico terms it, Germany’s will be a ‘corona presidency’.
Cohesion and solidarity will be the watchwords as Germany takes over from Croatia in leading Council meetings and pushing the legislative agenda for the next six months.
With the aptly-chosen motto of ‘Together for Europe’s recovery’, Germany’s overriding aim will be to rescue the Union from the worst economic crisis in the EU’s history.
"No country can weather the crisis alone, in isolation," declared German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Bundestag, when presenting the presidency priorities.
So what’s on the agenda for the German presidency of the EU Council?
1: Leading Europe’s recovery
Top priority will be ensuring the European Council reaches an agreement as soon as possible on both the EU’s long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), and the recovery fund proposed to tackle the fallout from the pandemic.
On May 27, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen presented a two-pronged plan to revive Europe’s economy: an updated blueprint for the EU’s MFF and a new Recovery Instrument. In total, the Commission is proposing €750 billion to be added to the next EU long-term budget, envisaged to be of €1.1 trillion, for a total of €1.85 trillion for the next seven years.
Recovery, however, depends on cohesion and solidarity: “The initial reflexes in the face of the pandemic – in Germany as elsewhere – was to take a national approach rather than a European approach. That was not a good idea. A global pandemic slows joint international action and mutual support,” Merkel said.
Merkel’s first big challenge comes on July 17 and 18 in Brussels, as EU member states’ heads of government meet in person for the first time in months – a meeting Merkel anticipates finding difficult: “We hope we can find a solution, even if there is still a long way to go."
Germany will be aiming to find an agreement between the EU’s “frugal four” – Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark and Austria – that are looking to impose stringent conditions on EU help for coronavirus-stricken economies, and southern European countries such as Spain and Italy, that want grants rather than loans.
In a recent interview given to various big European newspapers, Merkel acknowledged not only the financial, but also the emotional toll of the pandemic: “For Italy and Spain, for example, the coronavirus pandemic signifies a huge burden in economic, medical and, of course, because of the many lives lost, emotional terms. In these circumstances, it is only right for Germany to think not just about itself but to be prepared to engage in an extraordinary act of solidarity.
It was in that spirit that French president Emmanuel Macron and I made our proposal,” Merkel said, referring to the joint Franco-German proposal for a €500 billion economic recovery programme for Europe. The European Commission and the European Parliament have gone further, with Parliament calling for a massive package of measures, and broadly welcoming the Commission’s proposal for an €750 billion Recovery Fund.
2: Boosting economic growth
Germany takes over the presidency at a time when Europe is dealing with the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy said it will be pursuing an ambitious economic policy agenda, based on these primary goals: strengthening Europe as a competitive economic area operating globally; establishing Europe as an innovative centre with a digitally autonomous economy and society; and promoting Europe’s output of ideas for socially fair structural change, a climate-friendly economy and a successful energy transition.
Economic recovery and growth will go hand-in-hand with achieving the 17 sustainable development goals and the objectives of the EU Green Deal.
3: Climate change mitigation
“We also want to retain our original priorities and continue to address the issues that will define our future, in particular how to rebuild our economy in a climate-neutral way, how to advance the digital transformation and how to strengthen Europe’s role as an anchor of stability in the world,” Merkel said.
During its presidency, Germany will focus on the transition to a climate-neutral economy. Germany has referred to the European Commission’s Green Deal as “a huge opportunity” for the recovery of the European economy, and therefore it will pursue consultations on European climate action legislation with “great energy”. The aim is to make a binding commitment to achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050 and to adjust the targets for 2030.
4: The ‘new mobility’ approach
A core task the German presidency is giving itself is to make mobility in Europe more modern, more innovative and more sustainable – and learn the lessons of COVID-19.
Through its new mobility approach, alongside climate change mitigation, Germany intends to pursue digital transformation to enhance the efficiency of the EU’s infrastructure through digital solutions, creating a common platform through which member states can exchange data.
This data will, for example, be used for the purpose of autonomous driving – and for this, 5G networks will be needed to provide universal coverage throughout Europe. Mobility will also need to be climate-friendly – within this context, Europe-side development of the refueling and charging infrastructure will be critical.
5: Greater global responsibility
The world “needs Europe’s strong voice to protect human dignity, democracy and liberty,” Merkel has stated. Indeed, during its presidency, Germany will be giving Africa foreign policy priority, in terms of "seeing Africa as the continent of the future and ensuring our relationship is based on partnership".
The chancellor also said that an open dialogue with China will be pursued, focusing on issues such as an investment agreement, climate action, human rights, the rule of law and the future of Hong Kong. For Merkel, the United States of America is Europe's most important partner, but she is “aware that cooperation is currently more difficult than we would like - this is true in the field of climate, in the field of trade, and also currently on the question of the role of international organisations in the fight against the pandemic".
Within this context, it is realistic to anticipate multilateralism on Germany’s agenda. Merkel has long championed multilateralism – as she said during her speech at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos: “As Europeans – and Germany is certainly one of the lead countries on this – we will also work to promote multilateralism and to strengthen multilateral organisations.”
6: A stronger health policy
And, fittingly in Germany’s corona presidency, health policy also takes centre stage. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how cooperation and coordination between individual member states can encourage good results within the area of health policy. Germany’s presidency has set three policy goals: reshoring the manufacture of essential medicinal products and devices to Europe and building a European stockpile; making Europe more attractive for research; and strengthening European public health organisations such as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Medicines Agency.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel will be presenting the German presidency agenda to MEPs in the European Parliament today week, at the start of the July plenary session on Wednesday, July 8 at 2:15pm. This can be followed live.
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