Germany has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at an extremely challenging time, stressed Angela Merkel in her speech before the Bundesrat (the second chamber of the German Parliament). The Presidency comes with an enormous responsibility, she said. It is a responsibility that she is very much looking forward to, and one which the entire German government will be addressing with all its strength. She asked the federal states for support, and for their engagement in the work ahead.

Solidarity at crucial times

Angela Merkel last spoke in the Bundesrat in 2007 – then, as now, at the start of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. She looked back at crises Europe has since weathered: the then still recent rejection of the draft treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, the financial crisis and the European sovereign debt crisis as of 2008, and the massive movements of refugees in 2015. “Europe was able to weather all these challenges, because the EU member states, the federal states and regions, and above all the people of Europe stuck together at the vital moment.” Thanks to this solidarity, Europe today is a guarantor of peace, liberty, prosperity and security.

European unity is an enormous gift of the 20th century, said the Chancellor – “our shared good fortune”. Nevertheless, Europe must be consistently re-modelled and further developed. This is the philosophy that guides the EU, for instance, in its negotiations with the United Kingdom about the future relationship. Angela Merkel stressed that she would continue to push for a good solution. “Keeping our Europe together is worthwhile, and that is what I advocate.” Solidarity is more important than ever before.

Coronavirus pandemic – a test for Europe

Angela Merkel thanked the federal states for sending a strong message of solidarity and friendship to European neighbours during the coronavirus pandemic, for instance by taking in patients from neighbouring states. “This sign of common humanity demonstrates what we can achieve when Europe sticks together.”

Every federal state, she continued, brought its own regional experience and concerns to the debate. That can be strenuous and arduous. “Nevertheless, I am absolutely convinced that precisely this regional diversity within our federal state is a crucial reason, perhaps the crucial reason, why our country manages to deal successfully with even the greatest challenges time after time.” The federal and state governments have continued to agree on solutions that have so far managed to brake the coronavirus pandemic decisively.

Recovery plan serves Europe as a whole

The Chancellor also explained the European recovery plan that EU leaders will be discussing at the European Council meeting in mid-July. The aim is to come to an agreement as swiftly as possible. There will be a special spotlight on the countries and regions that have been economically worst hit by the pandemic. “It serves Europe as a whole, now and beyond the crisis,” said Angela Merkel. Only a Europe that is economically and socially strong will be able to stand up for its values and interests on the world stage.

Three challenges

The Chancellor cited three areas that will be pivotal to Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. They need to be addressed irrespective of the pandemic, and will be crucially important for Europe’s future, she said.

  • Firstly, climate action: Europe must continue to be a driving force in this sector. The strategy of the European Commission to push for a Green Deal is an important guideline here.
  • Secondly, more progress is to be made on the digital transformation of the economy and society. Europe’s sovereignty is critical in this field, to enable it to hold its own against international competitors.
  • Thirdly, Europe must accept more global responsibility. The political climate has become harsher. During the pandemic in particular, conflicts hit the poorest and weakest in the regions. That is why Africa will be a focus of foreign policy. An EU-African Union summit is planned for October.

Another priority

China is another priority, said the Chancellor, even if the summit in Leipzig has had to be postponed. China is both an economic competitor and a strategic partner. If Europe is to effectively advance European interests vis à vis China, it will have to speak with one voice, declared Angela Merkel.