In the midst of the EU’s greatest socio-economic and political crisis, Germany is set to take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Germany to radically rethink and prioritise its objectives.
As Europe’s economy begins to slowly recover from its coronavirus-induced three-month hibernation, it will be the German government’s job to substantially drive forward Europe’s economic recovery based on the European Commission’s €1.85 trillion proposal for a strengthened MFF and Recovery Fund.
Speaking to European Parliament leaders this week about her government’s objectives, Chancellor Merkel admitted that “expectations of the German Presidency have risen once again with the coronavirus crisis” while acknowledging that Berlin’s Presidency would be defined by a combination of forced flexibility to adapt to a potential second wave and a push to continue to drive forward import issues for the future.
As Europe’s economic powerhouse, and as Europe stands at a critical junction, Berlin’s Presidency comes at just the right time for many as discussions on shaping the future of Europe heat up. Germany overcoming its own shadows in agreeing on a joint initiative with France on a mutualising of national debt at the EU-level is also widely seen as Berlin retaking its leadership role in light of the upcoming Presidency.
With the joint initiative a key component of Commission President von der Leyen’s MFF and Next Generation EU Recovery Fund, it will be the task of Chancellor Merkel, Finance Minister Scholz and Minister of State for Europe Roth to navigate the difficult negotiations in the coming months – potentially without, at least initially, face-to-face meetings due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. According to a draft Presidency agenda, Berlin currently estimates a 70% reduction in the capacity of meetings due to travel restrictions and the limited availability of rooms large enough to allow for social distancing.
According to Minister of State Roth, speaking ahead of Monday’s meeting of EU Ministers, besides managing a “Team Europe” response to the COVID-19 pandemic as a top priority, climate policy, the digital transformation, banking and financial services, as well as the rule of law will be “at the top of the agenda.” While the post-Brexit future relationship negotiations is expected to take up significant parts of the Presidency, the negotiations are led by the EU Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, with the role of the Germany Presidency defined by the outcome of the planned June High-Level Conference between Commission President von der Leyen and Prime Minister Johnson.
As part of a trio, Germany takes up the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July ahead of Portugal and Slovenia in the first and second half of 2021 respectively.