Angela Merkel’s EU Council Presidency: An opportunity for Europe
FTI Consulting’s Berlin-based Public Affairs team will follow the German EU Council Presidency and keep you informed about how it influences developments on the German political scene.
In July, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will take over the Presidency of the European Council in a historically difficult phase for the European Union. National governments are facing major and unprecedented challenges through the COVID19 crisis. The Union’s multi-annual financial framework needs to be finalised and combined with massive economic recovery programs. And Brexit negotiations need to be brought to conclusion. A tremendous task at the – likely – end of her political career. But there are good reasons to be optimistic: especially in times like these, experience, sober analysis, diplomatic skills and perseverance are in demand. Qualities that Angela Merkel possesses in abundance.
Unchallenged at home
She is undisputed in domestic politics. She calmly sets the tone for political debate. And it is not only because the executive branch is always more popular in times of crisis that the approval ratings for her conservative party – the Christian Democrats – have risen. All observers – and her party – are well aware of how much Angela Merkel herself has contributed to the fact that Germany has so far managed through the pandemic comparatively well. An emerging discussion in Germany about a potential further term of office for Merkel after the 2021 elections had to be ended by herself with a clear: “Certainly not”.
Merkel thus embarks on her second EU Council Presidency not only, as always, well prepared, but also strengthened and unchallenged. She will not have to pay too much attention to party politics at home. This is a great opportunity for the EU but also for her: it could be the crowning glory of a remarkable political career, and Angela Merkel is clearly willing to seize this opportunity with determination.
Crisis response to accelerate transition
Chancellor Merkel briefly outlined her priorities for the German EU Council Presidency in a government statement in Bundestag last week. On June 24th, the Cabinet will adopt the German Presidency program, and on 1st July Merkel officially takes over the baton from Croatian Minister President Andrej Plenković. In her government statement she emphasized the size of the challenge: “The pandemic and the associated economic collapse are the greatest challenges in the history of Europe. How Europe copes with these crises compared to other regions of the world will determine the prosperity of European citizens and Europe’s role in the world.” Her speech stresses the need for more cohesion and solidarity, identifies climate change and digitalization as the key drivers of our society’s transformation, and states her objective to make Europe more resilient for the future. She concludes that hence the response to the consequences of the pandemic must not be a return to what we have known but must “strengthen and accelerate the transition to a new way of working and doing business.” No small fish. So, when asking her parliament for their support, her message is clear: “Europe needs us, just as we need Europe.”
Bundestag broadly supportive
All parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag, except the right-wing populist AfD, are convinced that Germany must act in solidarity and responsibility during its EU Presidency, work for a stronger Europe and strengthen cooperation between the European countries.
The Social Democrats (SPD) are faithful to their government partner, the Christian Democrats, and the priorities of the SPD’s EU Presidency resolution are complex and cover a broad spectrum, without getting too specific. They include strengthening European sovereignty and the EU as an international actor, supporting the European Green Deal, promoting European solidarity.
According to the SPD, after the corona crisis the European Union should not simply regain the status quo. During its presidency, Germany should consistently orient the European project towards the future. The multi-year financial framework as a genuine budget for the future were especially important in this context. “The danger that Europe could break up as a result of the crises or be deeply divided is real – not least because various external and internal actors are working specifically towards such a split of the European Union,” says the SPD’s resolution paper.
Alliance 90/The Greens in Bundestag (Greens) are offering a more focused perspective based on the party’s core environmental competencies. They call on the government to “make the EU Council Presidency a climate presidency”. They say, the Federal Government must use the Presidency to improve the European Green Deal to promote climate protection and structural change in Europe in a socio-ecological way by making climate protection the guiding principle for the European recovery fund ‘Next Generation EU’.
The Free Democrats (FDP), inherently European but struggling to regain their political relevance, demand that the ambitions of the German government should not be limited to overcoming the crisis and maintaining the status quo but should tackle both the crisis and the future of Europe.
Political preconditions are positive while expectations are high
Overall, these are good preconditions for a German Presidency in a very difficult phase of the EU. Angela Merkel has repeatedly stressed that she will tackle this task with great passion. Nevertheless, expectations on Germany to lead this Presidency successfully are high, and Angela Merkel will have to prove her ability to outperform in times of crises yet again.