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Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that fundamental rights were the first concern of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Europe, she said, has weathered crises because at the end of the day everyone was aware of what is indispensable – fundamental rights and cohesion. “These are the rights that apply for everyone. They don’t apply more for some than others. They don’t apply for some people all of the time and for others only sometimes. They apply for everybody, all of the time.”

In her address to the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel explained the priorities of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. On 1 July Germany took over the Presidency for a period of six months. It motto is “Together for Europe’s recovery”.

Cohesion and European solidarity

The second major concern of Germany’s Presidency, said the Chancellor, is cohesion. European solidarity is more than just a humane gesture, however. It is a long-term investment. It is something that will pay off for everybody. For this reason the Chancellor called for agreement to be reached this summer on the outstanding EU financial issues. She was happy, she said, that the European Commission’s proposal for the EU budget takes into account many aspects of the post-pandemic European recovery fund.

The Chancellor proposed the 500-billion-euro recovery fund with French President Emmanuel Macron. She did, however, also stress that although solidarity with the regions worst hit by the crisis is in the interests of all states, it is important to ensure that “burden does not become unreasonable for the economically stronger nations”.

Europe must be a trailblazer on climate action

The need to master the pandemic and its consequences will, of course, shape the German Presidency of the Council of the European Union, said Angela Merkel. Nevertheless, it is important not to lose sight of the other challenges. With respect to climate change, she pointed to the climate action programme proposed six months ago by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. She is equally convinced, she declared, that there can only be a global solution to climate change if Europe acts as trailblazer in the field of climate action.

It is important to her to ensure that Europe’s climate neutrality as of 2050 is translated into law. That is why she welcomes the consideration of the European Commission to reduce emissions by 2030 to between 50 and 55 per cent of the 1990 levels, as an interim step. “To this end we will also support work on the European climate action legislation.”

Digital transformation necessary for society

The Chancellor cited digital transformation as a further major challenge. It demands “that we change the way we live and they way we engage in economic activity in the long term”. This fact makes many people afraid, but she said it is “a necessary change for our society, which will in the long term bring us greater protection and sustainability”. 

Angela Merkel pointed to the dangers to democracy – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We cannot fight the pandemic with lies and disinformation, just as we cannot fight it with hate speech and rabble rousing.” In a democracy there must be truth and transparency. “This sets Europe apart, and Germany will be working for this during its Presidency.”

Europe’s responsibility in a globalised world

The Chancellor’s final point looked at the role of Europe in the world. “We live at a time of global upheavals, in which force fields shift.” In spite of its involvement in the transatlantic alliance, Europe is more responsible for itself. The question now is “whether we want a Europe that preserves its liberty and identity even in an age of globalisation”. In this situation, strong foreign and security policy is necessary.

Alongside negotiations on the future relationship with the United Kingdom, progress must also be made in other foreign-policy fields – the accession conference with North Macedonia and possibly with Albania, relations with Africa and the African Union, as well as migration and asylum policy. Strategic relations with China are also enormously important, said the Chancellor.

Conference of the future of Europe

During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Germany wants to continue deliberations as to whether the EU wants to retain the principle of unanimous voting on matters of foreign affairs and security policy or not. “We should also conduct this debate within the framework of a conference on the future of Europe, which the European Commission proposed last year, and for which you developed a great many ideas with your decisions,” said the Chancellor.

The Chancellor wound up with a tribute to the composer of the European anthem, Ludwig van Beethoven. His 9th Symphony, she said, always uplifts her. The Chancellor expressed the wish that the message conveyed by this music, the idea of brotherhood and unity, should guide Europe. “What message could be more appropriate than that this Europe is capable of great things if we stand together and pull together?”