The fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic has shaped Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. But the EU has also made crucial progress on other key issues, thanks to an outward show of unity backed by inward solidarity.

A COVID-19 patient from France is transported to Germany by helicopter during the first months of the health crisis. Vaccinations against COVID-19 are expected to begin shortly in the EU © picture alliance/Arnulf Stoffel/dpa

The fight against COVID‑19

The EU stands together in the fight against COVID‑19. Thanks to many European scientists and European research efforts, a vaccine has been developed, procured and distributed in record time. COVID‑19 vaccination programmes are to begin shortly in the EU. All EU citizens will have the chance to be vaccinated within the foreseeable future – a crucial step in ending the pandemic. Germany is working to ensure that the EU will provide the vaccine to those countries with particular need of assistance as well. During its Council Presidency, Germany also succeeded in improving coordination efforts within the EU to tackle the pandemic, namely with an EU-wide map of risk areas, uniform rules for entry from third countries, and joint work on testing strategies and contact tracing. Since the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic, Germany has taken in and treated over 260 intensive care patients from neighbouring states and has sent many items of equipment, such as masks and ventilators, to partner countries in the EU.

Mission accomplished: German Chancellor Angela Merkel with French President Emmanuel Macron at their joint press conference following a meeting of the European Council in July. At the meeting, EU leaders adopted the Multiannual Financial Framework and the recovery fund, Next Generation EU, based on a Franco-German initiative © Bundesregierung/Bergmann

Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU recovery fund

After lengthy negotiations, the EU passed a Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) – in other words, a budget for the next seven years – based on a Franco-German proposal, and approved funds for its recovery following the COVID‑19 pandemic. The Next Generation EU recovery fund amounts to 750 billion euros and is a new instrument intended to provide citizens with rapid assistance. It is directed primarily at countries particularly hard-hit by the COVID‑19 pandemic and its consequences. Meanwhile, the MFF for the next seven years amounts to 1.07 trillion euro. It places particular priority on increased funds for health, climate change mitigation, the digital transformation and youth exchanges.

There is another new element to the new budget: for the first time, the disbursement of EU funds is tied to respect for the rule of law. Germany campaigned intensively right to the end in order to make this possible. The resulting package makes the EU fit for a green and innovative future, and strengthens European values.

The rule of law is one of the cornerstones of the European Union. During its Council Presidency, Germany set in motion a new rule-of-law dialogue among member states © dpa-Zentralbild

Strengthening the rule of law

The rule of law is the foundation for the EU as a community of shared values whose citizens enjoy protection of their rights and freedoms. That is why Germany launched a new rule-of-law dialogue among EU partners in the Council during its Presidency. The aim is to consolidate the common understanding of the rule of law in the EU through frank exchange. In a “horizontal” debate, all 27 member states discussed the general rule-of-law situation in the EU. A second round of discussions examined the situation in an initial five member states; each member state will eventually be looked at. This review of the rule-of-law situation is intended to heighten the shared awareness of the issue and to identify problematic developments at an early stage. Portugal will continue the dialogue next year during its Council Presidency during the first half of 2021.

The European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management (CoE) opened on 17 September, 2020, in Berlin. At the centre, international partners will work together to defuse conflicts through civilian means © Florian Gaertner/

European sovereignty

Germany is committed to an EU that strengthens its ability to take action and shape events in areas like security, technology and the digital transformation, trade policy or monetary policy. The EU pools its resources and acts as a single unit, especially regarding external affairs. Due to competition between world powers, nation-states can no longer influence the global order by themselves. In the field of security policy, Germany launched a so-called Strategic Compass during its Presidency. According to this strategy, EU member states will exchange views on relevant security and defence issues and decide on a common line on the basis of a threat analysis. Germany has also successfully concluded lengthy negotiations regarding the Permanent Structured Cooperation: in the future, non-EU member states will be able to participate in relevant EU security and defence projects. This will also strengthen the European pillar of NATO and cooperation between the EU and NATO as a whole.

But conflicts can never be resolved by military means alone. To ensure sustainable peace, Germany is promoting and strengthening civilian crisis management as a key element of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. With the establishment of the European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management in Berlin, the German Government is making an important contribution to achieving this aim. The EU member states and their partners will use the Centre to pool their knowledge and train staff in order to improve EU-led civilian missions.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Council Charles Michel, following the meeting of the European Council in December - the last of Germany's Presidency - during which EU leaders set an ambitious new climate target © Europäische Union

The EU: A leader in climate change mitigation

Europe continues to lead the way in climate change mitigation. By 2030, the EU wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 55%; by 2050, we want to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. During its Council Presidency, the German Government successfully worked to ensure that these goals are enshrined in a European Climate Law. The targets are ambitious, but at the same time they afford huge opportunities: the transition towards greater sustainability is to pay off in economic terms. And what’s more, at least 30% of EU expenditures in the next seven years are to be allocated to climate change mitigation. We are acting together for a green recovery.

During Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Council adopted a decision and a regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime © European Union

Commitment to human rights and conflict resolution

The EU has approved a new political instrument against severe human rights violations such as torture, slavery and systematic sexual violence. With the human rights sanctions regime, the EU is now able to refuse entry to individuals or freeze their assets. Germany in particular spoke out within the EU in support of this move.

Mediation is equally important for conflict resolution; for example, mediation between parties to the conflict in Libya got peace talks underway there. Germany also promoted this instrument at a European level during its Presidency, and EU foreign ministers have agreed on a new mediation concept. As a consequence, the Council of the EU can, for the first time, decide on missions on its own – for a strong EU as a global peace actor.

On 14 December, foreign ministers from the EU, Latin America and the Caribbean came together for an online conference. On the agenda: joint efforts to combat the pandemic, cooperation on the digital transformation, moving towards a sustainable economy, fighting climate change and preserving biodiversity © Florian Gaertner/

Global partners and Trio Presidency

Multilateralism, democracy and free trade as common guiding values – the EU is bolstering its relations with key regions. The EU and the ASEAN states in Southeast Asia are now strategic partners. Germany has stepped up its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region even further. The EU has also held a major virtual conference with Latin American and Caribbean countries, who share our goals of climate change mitigation, biodiversity, sustainable economic activity and values-led digitalisation. Meanwhile, it has offered the US a “new deal” with the Biden administration that aims to strengthen the rules-based order and revive the transatlantic partnership.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass (left) talks with his Portuguese and Slovenian counterparts, Augusto Santos Silva (middle) and Anze Logar (right). © dpa

Portugal and Slovenia: Partners in the Trio Presidency

Continuity is especially important when it comes to tackling certain contentious issues in the EU. Regardless which member state currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, solutions to major issues such as the rule of law, migration or climate change mitigation require constant political impetus. Not all reforms can be completed within six months, which is why Germany is closely collaborating with its successors Portugal and Slovenia over the 18 months of the trio’s presidencies. Portugal will press on with many recently introduced initiatives, such as the rule-of-law dialogue, after taking the helm on 1 January 2021.