As the new year started, the German government passed the baton of the EU Council Presidency on to Portugal. Although the German EU Council Presidency came to an end, the high expectations of Germany and its responsibility to work for a united Europe remain.
Similar to its last Council presidency in 2007, the German Council Presidency came at a crucial moment in which Europe was at crossroads. In 2007, there was a setback after the referenda in the Netherlands and France that put an end to the dream of a European Constitutional Treaty in 2005 and led the EU into a crisis of identity and its purpose. In 2020, it was an unprecedented health crisis that triggered a crisis of solidarity with border closures and export restrictions on medical protective equipment that were urgently needed in the member states most hit by the crisis. In this context, the Germany Council presidency had to find agreement on deadlocked complex files, such as the multiannual budget and Brexit while preventing renewed border closures through coordination.
As in 2007 when the Berlin Declaration renewed impetus to the process of EU reform and paved the way for the Lisbon Treaty, the German presidency was able to solve some deadlocked negotiations. One major achievement is the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-27 with the recovery instrument. The agreement on the 1.8 trillion euros budget and the principal idea to jointly borrow 750 billion euros on the capital market for a European recovery instrument was an integration leap. In the adopted budget important future-oriented programmes such as Horizon Europe, Erasmus+ and EU4Health have been strengthened thanks to the insistence of the European Parliament that helped to top-up these important programmes by 16 billion euros. For the first time, the EU budget is linked to the a rule of law conditionality that shall prevent mismanagement of European funds and adds an important instrument to the EU’s rule of law toolbox. Yet, the rule of law conditionality is not a panacea in fighting European values and rights. That is why it is good that a new preventive measure, the rule of law dialogue, has been introduced. The German Council Presidency helped to institutionalise this new practice to debate the EU Commissions’ rule of law reports in the Council. However, a reform of the fundamental values mechanism of Art. 7 TEU is necessary to effectively counteract the dismantling of the rule of law. In other respects, the German presidency helped to tighten the EU climate goals, struck a last-minute deal on Brexit and finalised the 5-year long negotiations on stronger transparency rules for lobby meetings with the Council of the EU.
But not all goals and expectations of the German Council Presidency could be met. When it comes to EU Migration and Asylum Policy, almost no progress on the proposed EU migration pact has been made. Germany was only able to produce a progress report, although it would have been crucial for Germany to build bridges between the different opinion camps in the EU. Similar applies to the Conference on the Future of Europe, where no agreement on the Conference’s mandate could be reached. Yet, it seems that Portugal will manage to find an agreement for a joint declaration for a Conference to start on 9 May 2021.
These shortcomings aside, it was a successful presidency. But there is no time for the German government to rest on its laurels. The problems in the delay of vaccine distribution, the ratification of the Brexit agreement in the European Parliament, the urgent need for a migration and asylum deal and the soon-to-start Conference on the Future of Europe require a German EU policy that stays committed in shaping Europe’s future and remains vocal in developing the EU further. At the same time, one may not forget that Germany heads to the polls in September to elect a new German parliament and – indirectly – the successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Major campaign issues like migration, climate policy and the coordination of the Covid-19 pandemic are cross-border issues that require a European solution. So it comes to no surprise that according to a representative poll commissioned by EM Germany, 84 per cent of respondents indicate that European policy should play an important role in the upcoming election campaign. (link: https://ebdwiki.netzwerk-ebd.de/index.php?title=Datei:EBD_PUB_Schau_2021_KW2_Umfrage_zu_KoordinierungEU_EN_Jpeg_klein.jpg )
As a critical watch-dog of German European policy, we remain vigilant that the German government will not fall back into its EU passivity of previous years. We therefore call for a new strategy of a more proactive and democratic German EU policy that is well rooted in the parliamentary system, involves social forces in Germany and is attentive to the ideas and opinions in its European countries – at government level and through a real European Public Diplomacy at the level of civil society.
Dr. Linn Selle Presidenta del Movimiento Europeo Alemán