German Council Presidency – Holding the EU Together at the Centre of Europe!

On 1 July, Germany takes over the EU Council Presidency and faces a major agenda. [Part 1]

On 1 July 2020, the Federal Republic of Germany will take over the Presidency of the European Union (EU). This means that it will conduct the business of the Member States for six months, insofar as they meet in the various Councils of Ministers and in the European Council and participate in EU decisions. The Council Presidency is also linked to the obligation to ensure that compromises are reached between the Member States of the Union and with the other EU institutions in the political and legislative process. The Council Presidency also has the role of representing the Round Table of States vis-à-vis the European Commission, the European Parliament, international organisations and third countries.

Today, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom launches a series of articles which will examine various aspects of the German Council Presidency in the current European context until 1 July, but also take a stand with proposals for the longer-term development of the EU. Read today to start the series:

How Can Europe Emerge From the Crisis?

Europe is in the middle of one of the most threatening crises since the Second World War. At the beginning of the Covid 19 crisis, the reflex of retreat to familiar national politics and its decision-makers dominated. Now the handling of the virus and its consequences is entering a new phase. After the health crisis and its initially successful combat, the economic crisis is now taking centre stage. A crisis that is hitting citizens and businesses in almost all EU Member States to a considerable, often existential extent. Against this economic and political background, Germany will assume the Presidency of the European Union on 1 July this year.

Negotiating the EU Budget, Rescue- and Recovery Packages

The EU and its member states have already presented extensive rescue packages – much faster than during the financial crisis ten years ago. In Brussels, national aid totalling two trillion euros has been notified; ESM, EIB and the EU Commission with the short-time working allowance SURE stand for a package of 500 billion euros.

Currently, the EU Commission has presented its draft for the European Recovery Fund (“Next Generation EU”) with an additional 750 billion euros. This money is to flow directly to the economically most affected regions and sectors in the countries of the EU and be invested according to European priorities. This should put Europe back on the path to growth. The course will be set in the coming months to determine the sectors, regions and policy areas into which the billions from the “Next Generation EU” programme will flow. The “Next Generation EU” package is being negotiated in conjunction with the normal EU budget, the so-called multiannual financial framework. This involves an additional approximately 1100 billion euros, which will flow over seven years (2021-2027) to the 27 EU member states.

Both strands of the budget will require the full negotiating and compromise-building skills of the Federal Government.

Strengthening Crisis Resilience

In addition to crisis management, however, the German Council Presidency will also be shaped by the long lines of European policy:

After the financial and debt crisis a good ten years ago and the migration crisis that began five years ago, the community of European states is facing the third massive global stress test within a decade. And as always in Europe, it is not only a question of financial and economic interests, but also of the balance between national autonomy and European capacity to act. In the past, Europe has always emerged stronger from crises when it has readjusted this balance in a tough political debate, underpinned it with practical joint efforts of intensive cooperation and balanced it institutionally. Germany must make its contribution to this in the coming six months.

Asserting the Basis of Prosperity, Assuming Responsibility

The internal success of the EU rests to a large extent on the attractiveness of its internal market with its pillars of free movement of goods, persons, services and capital. Only a Europe that is open to the world, that accepts competition from China, the USA and other regions, that remains receptive to the integration of new ideas, innovative scientific and economic processes and the people who support them, will be able to maintain its prosperity the day after tomorrow.

In addition to the willingness to compete, there must also be an understanding of and responsibility for third parties. Anyone as large as the EU and whose influence extends around the world through goods, services, infrastructure and cultural presence must also accept responsibility for the stability and sustainability of the global order.

During the German Presidency, therefore, the issues of relations with China and Africa will be on the agenda, as will the regulation of the post-Brexit relationship with Great Britain, the United Kingdom.

Making Europe Fit for the Future and Capable of Action

The current crisis in the EU requires not only internal and external responses that focus on stabilising the economy and prosperity. It is also necessary to address the issues of asylum legislation and immigration policy, as well as the common foreign policy.

The world of the Cold War of the 20th century is dead. Today, neo-pentarchic structures are emerging in the world order, exposing Europe to a variety of threat and risk scenarios. Geographically, the priorities of the EU Member States vary widely: Central and Eastern European states such as the Baltic look to Russia, which is waging a hot war on the territory of Ukraine after the occupation of Crimea and is far from having good neighbourly relations with the EU. The EU’s Mediterranean neighbours are looking to the MENA region and Africa as an area of instability and source of refugee flows. The economic heavyweights of Western and Northern Europe and the EU as a whole are confronted with the Chinese challenge, both in terms of economic policy and increasingly as a power factor in security policy. This is compounded by the volatile relationship with the US, which is becoming increasingly unpredictable as a guarantor of European and global security and – even beyond the current administration – is shifting the focus of its strategic orientation from the Atlantic to the Pacific region.

If the EU wants to maintain its ability to act, it will have to assume more foreign, security and military responsibility in the future. EU politicians will have to learn again to invest clearly visible political and economic capital in foreign and security policy. The competition for resources that flow into European priorities such as the Green Deal, the digitalisation of Europe and the improvement of its social security is programmed. But: strategic independence and resilience, increasing its military capabilities and protecting its borders are also on the EU’s list of priorities.

So there is enough on the table. During the German Council Presidency, much of what is still far into Europe’s future will be tackled.

Thomas Ilka

Regional Director, FNF European Dialogue