Event Report: Liberal Breakfast on the German EU Council Presidency

A joint event series by Friedrich Naumann Foundation Europe & ALDE Party

Check out the live stream here!

The Covid-19 crisis has put an enormous strain on Europe’s capacity of action. The deficits in its crisis management confirmed the need for increased cooperation to make the European Union more resilient, democratic and innovative. In the midst of this situation, Germany is taking over the EU Council presidency. With its reputation as political heavyweight, it will now have to prove that it has what it takes to come out on top of the crisis.

In order to shed light on liberal expectations for the German presidency, FNF European Dialogue and the ALDE Party invited Nicola Beer (Vice-President of the European Parliament, Renew Europe) to one of their joint Liberal Breakfasts. Ms Beer was interviewed by Jennifer Baker, journalist and host of the Brusselsgeek blog.

When asked about the EU approach to the Covid-19 pandemic, Beer stressed that the crisis could have been handled better. Instead of a coordinated approach, some Member States opted for closing their national borders quickly after the start of the crisis. The past months revealed the challenging and complicated times that Europe had been facing even before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. She mentioned the importance of taking the opportunity and working hard for a recovery for Europe to come out of this situation better and stronger than before.

On the question of whether she thinks there is going to be a quick agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), Beer emphasised the value aspect of the discussion. She pointed out that all Member States needed to be assured that this financial instrument pursues a common goal and benefits them individually, rather than being a burden. She nevertheless warned that these goals would then also have to be achieved by channelling the money into future-proofed projects and reforms. However, Commissions President von der Leyen’s current proposal, which bases the distribution of funds on a pre-Covid rate, would make the attainment of these goals unlikely.

Concerning the widely discussed recovery package, Beer highlighted the need for the “Next Generation EU” program to provide growth, modernisation and innovation, especially in the sectors of the Green Deal and Digitisation. Otherwise, the next generation would only be left with debts. As an alternative approach, she proposed that the programme’s money should be allocated directly to specific projects with European added value within the Member States,  for example via the European Investment Bank, instead of adding it to their national budgets.

In addition, Beer required higher investments in digitisation than currently planned in the MFF and the recovery fund and a rule of law mechanism for MFF as well as for the Recovery Package. While public investments could build the base for this innovative sector, the private sector will also be necessary to fund and develop it. Additionally, she stressed the importance of being technology-open and let research and development find the best ways to fulfil politically set goals.

With regard to Brexit, Beer referred to the short time span left and shared her hopes that the German presidency will be able to unblock the situation with diplomatic efforts. Great Britain is and will remain a European country, wherefore maintaining and fostering close relations is particularly important.

As Baker delved into the European foreign policy expectations for the Council Presidency, Beer pointed out that the EU Member States must act together to be stronger and be recognised as a global player. This would be especially important as the United States are currently focussing largely on their internal

interests. The EU must fill the gap left by the US and be a stronger partner within NATO, as other countries with different governmental systems, such as China, could take this opportunity.

Europe needs to be a strong voice for democracy and human rights. Beer particularly condemned China’s current policies and actions towards Hong Kong and advised the EU-China summit to be cancelled, not only postponed. She further called China to balance its interests in Africa, as it strategically purposes its own interests rather than investing in developing the African continent. Europe should not only provide financial investment but also share its technologies, so that Africa has the chance to develop its own structures and not be as dependent on international aid anymore.

Baker then went on to discuss the important topic of rule of law in Europe, especially in the light of recent controversial actions by Member States like Poland and Hungary. Beer emphasised  the need to distinguish the government and the citizens of these states in the discussion. She stressed the importance of exchanging and engaging with the citizens and civil society in these Member States. Only if we can convince them of the importance of rule of law, can they hold their governments accountable and take democratic action. Additionally, a new, neutral and unpoliticised rule of law mechanism should be set up within the framework of the EU and implemented by an independent body. Herein, every Member State should be evaluated regularly, risking its EU financial benefits when failing to meet the requirements, Beer elaborated.

On the question of EU own resources, Beer rejected this thought as it would entail European taxes. Particularly during the current situation, in which people are struggling as a consequence of the crisis, an additional tax would not be appropriate. Furthermore, she warned of creating a precedent by creating a new tax and which could be followed by more. She also opposed the proposal of a digital tax for enterprises as it is not advisable to only focus on one sector but to assure a fair and transparent tax system for all economic sectors.

Lastly, the conference on the future of Europe was of particular concern for Beer in the discussion on the Council Presidency expectations, since it is Germany’s responsibility to start the conference during its presidency. The conference should be open to any outcome, including treaty changes and overall help the EU to prepare for future challenges.

Further topics brought up by the audience were the Nordstream Pipeline, hydrogen, and disinformation. Beer supported the new strategy on hydrogen and the use of this technology in general. Regarding disinformation, she mentioned that the phenomenon became more apparent, especially during the crisis. She stressed the importance to fight disinformation, foster dialogues and provide valid information in a world of communication. Concerning the Nordstream Pipeline, Beer argued that Germany is a contributing factor to the current problematic situation. By not coordinating a decision on the EU level, Germany offended its partners. Therefore, it is generally important for the EU to cooperate and coordinate more in the Future.