The evening before 1 July...
...the motto of Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union was projected onto the Brandenburg Gate: “Together for Europe's recovery”. Germany will hold the Presidency for six months - just as the COVID-19 pandemic is posing a particular challenge for the EU.
Traditionally the Presidency starts with a meeting between the country taking over the Presidency and the European Commission to discuss the priorities of the new Presidency. As a result of the pandemic, this took the form of a video conference with a smaller number of participants. After their meeting, the Chancellor and the European Commission President answered the questions of the press.
The German governments's programme illustrates the challenges the European Union expects to face during Germany's Presidency, including the COVID-19 pandemic and its health-related, economic and social impacts. The multiannual financial framework and negotiations on the future relationship with the United Kingdom are other focuses.
On 8 July the Chancellor spoke in the European Parliament in Brussels. It was her first foreign trip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In her speech, she first addressed a matter close to her heart: 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,” stressed Angela Merkel.
On 13 July the environment ministers met for the first time, with Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze in the chair. Climate change mitigation was one important issue discussed. Under the provisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change the EU undertook to become greenhouse gas neutral by 2050. The German government is now working to achieve an EU Climate Law that would translate these political commitments into law for all EU member states.
Right at the start of Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU, the 27 leaders faced a massive task. They met on 17 July in Brussels to discuss a recovery fund to address the consequences of the pandemic and a new multiannual financial framework. it was the first time they had met in person since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was a negotiating marathon. Rather than the planned two days, the special meeting lasted four days and four nights. After 91 hours and 20 minutes, agreement was reached on the morning of 21 July. The Chancellor described the agreement as a “response to the greatest crisis in the history of the EU”.
The Chancellor and the French President presented the results. The 27 EU member states agreed on a new multiannual financial framework for the period 2021-2027 worth 1.8 trillion euros. Between 2021 and 2023, 750 billion euros of this sum is to be made available to a recovery fund to address the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. 390 billion euros of the total are to be awarded as grants and 360 billion as loans.
On 26 August Federal Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer came together with her EU counterparts for an informal meeting in Berlin. It was the first meeting in person at European level since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. One important item on the agenda was the design of the strategic compass, which is to ascertain what and whom Europe needs to defend against, and what measures need to be taken to protect people in Europe from future threats.
Right after the meeting of defence ministers, the foreign ministers of the EU came together to discuss foreign and security policy questions of strategic importance on 27 and 28 August: the state of play in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, the protests in Belarus and the situation in Beirut after the explosion. The EU-Russia relationship and the COVID-19 pandemic also made up a part of the programme. This “Gymnich Meeting” was first convened in 1974 on the initiative of the then German Foreign Minister, Walter Scheel, and has become an important date for each Presidency thereafter.
On 14 September, the EU held talks with China in the form of a virtual meeting. The Chancellor, as head of government of the country holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU, the President of the European Council Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel engaged in discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping. On the agenda were climate action, the investment agreement, human rights and ways of handling the pandemic. The meeting was originally to have been held in Germany, with all 27 EU heads of state and government. It had to be cancelled in this form because of the pandemic.