“No country can weather the crisis alone, in isolation,” declared Angela Merkel in the German Bundestag. In her government statement, she briefly outlined the main lines of European policy before the virtual meeting of the European Council on 19 June and the start of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July.
“Europe needs us, just as we need Europe”
With a view to the tasks facing Germany when it takes over the Presidency, the Chancellor said,“ Europe needs us, just as we need Europe.” Europe is not only a historical legacy, but “a project that will lead us into the future”.
With the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Germany is shouldering a special responsibility at a time in which the European Union is facing “the greatest challenges in its history”. The initial reflexes in the face of the pandemic – in Germany as elsewhere – was to take a national approach rather than a European approach. That was not a good idea, said the Chancellor, and pointed out, “A global pandemic slows joint international action and mutual support.”
EU recovery fund – facilitating swift agreement
In this context, the Chancellor pointed to the joint Franco-German proposal for a 500 billion euro economic recovery programme for Europe. The programme would strengthen the new EU financial framework over the years to come, and invest in the worst hit regions in Europe in particular, equipping them for the future.
The Chancellor said she would be working to ensure that the European Council reaches an agreement as soon as possible both on the multiannual financial framework and on the recovery fund. The current European economic data make swift, decisive action essential, she said.
The Chancellor stressed that the recovery plan for Europe is limited only to the pandemic, is targeted, and would be in force for a limited period. The European Commission would be given the one-off authority to issue bonds on the market on behalf of the European Union, and to use this to award crisis-related grants. This would build on a secure legal basis, which requires unanimous voting in the Council and respects the budget laws of national parliaments.
Priorities of Germany’s presidency of the Council of the European Union
For the German Presidency, announced the Chancellor, the government has not lost sight of the other major challenges of the moment, in addition to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. She named three priority areas:
- Climate change mitigation and the transition to a climate-neutral economy: The European Commission’s Green Deal offers “central guidelines and a huge opportunity” for the recovery of the European economy. Consultations on European climate action legislation will be continued with great energy. The aim is to make a binding commitment to achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050, and to adjust the targets for 2030.
- Digitalisation of the economy and society: Europe must become sovereign in technological and digital terms. The pandemic, said the Chancellor, has clearly illustrated Europe’s digital dependence. Europe must “be able to decide for itself where European independence is called for and how we wish to realise this”. She gave the example of establishing a secure and trustworthy European data infrastructure.
- Greater global responsibility for Europe. The world needs “Europe’s strong voice to protect human dignity, democracy and liberty”. Africa will be a foreign policy priority during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It will be about “seeing Africa as the continent of the future and ensuring our relationship is based on partnership”. With regard to China, the Chancellor said she was in favour of an “open dialogue” to work more on issues including an investment agreement and climate action, as well as the rule of law, human rights and the future of Hong Kong.
For the video of the full government statement (German only), click here.