German EU presidency urged to ‘show an interest’ in bloc at time of unprecedented challenges

Germany takes over the rotating presidency from Croatia on 1 July, against a backdrop of crises, including the Coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the still-unapproved long-term EU budget.
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

26 Jun 2020

Speaking to reporters, Ska Keller, the joint leader of the Greens in Parliament, said “the biggest challenge” for Germany was “to be interested in the EU.”

Keller, a German MEP, said, “So far, the current German government has not shown a lot of enthusiasm for the EU or EU legislation. In fact, on things like environmental legislation it has blocked things.”

Keller was speaking to reporters with her colleague Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian MEP and group co-leader, on Germany’s keenly awaited six-month term at the helm of the EU.


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Looking ahead, Keller said “Germany will have to focus on the recovery fund and also on reaching a good agreement. The EU is already late on agreeing this and this will be a big challenge for the presidency. But there must be sufficient investment.”

EU leaders are due to meet again next month to finalise the €750bn recovery fund and MMF but some countries, including the Netherlands and Austria, oppose the current plans recently tabled by the Commission.

Keller said, “The MMF cannot be seen as just an addition to the recovery fund; it too needs proper financing.”

“So far, the current German government has not shown a lot of enthusiasm for the EU or EU legislation. In fact, on things like environmental legislation it has blocked things” Ska Keller, Greens co-leader

Other issues on the German agenda, she suggested, include the issue of the rule of law, particularly in Hungary and Poland.

Both countries have found themselves at loggerheads with the EU over controversial domestic legislation and perceived attacks on the judiciary.

“The German government has been too uncritical of Hungary’s Viktor Orban. I just hope that the German presidency will understand how important this matter [the rule of law] is for the EU,” said Keller.

She also said the German presidency will have to deal with “some leftovers” from the Croatian term in office, including the new migration and asylum package.

“This is a problem that has been lying around for many years, but I hope the new presidency will be an honest broker and not put its own interests first and above those of ‘smaller’ interests.”

Tackling climate change was another challenge, she said, adding, “Germany has been extremely reluctant to do anything on climate, so action is what matters now.”

Another issue facing the presidency was the roll out of 5G infrastructure, she said. Controversy over China's role in this seems likely to spill over into the German presidency.

She said, “This crisis has shown the importance of having good internet connections. I should know because I come from an area with very little broadband connection.”

“We are lucky to have a German presidency now because when Germany wants to exert leadership it usually does. We certainly need leadership now from Germany to get a deal on the MMF and recovery plan” Philippe Lamberts, Greens co-leader

“But it is a basic right for citizens to have this facility otherwise they are missing out on many different levels, not least being able to take part remotely in discussions and debates like we have been doing in Parliament for several weeks.”

Some EU nations counting on 5G to boost economic growth are eager to tackle conspiracy theories linking the wireless technology to the spread of the Coronavirus that have seen masts torched in several places.

According to telecoms lobbying groups ETNO and GSMA, such false claims have resulted in over 140 arson attacks on infrastructure such as mobile phone masts in 10 European countries and assaults on scores of maintenance workers.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has debunked claims that 5G poses a health threat, saying that viruses cannot travel on radio waves or mobile networks, and that COVID-19 has also spread to countries without 5G mobile networks.

When asked about such concerns, Keller said, “There are, as far as I know, no particular health risks either recorded or shown about 5G although that does not mean we should not investigate if the evidence does become available.”

She added, “It is very important, though, that we are not relying only on Chinese providers for 5G because that could pose a huge security risk.”

“We should not be developing 5G with, say, just Huawei [the Chinese tech giant] involved. We cannot have such critical infrastructure in the hands of just a single provider. We need similarly qualified providers in Europe but, currently, that is where we are lagging behind.”

Lamberts said, “We are lucky to have a German presidency now because when Germany wants to exert leadership it usually does. We certainly need leadership now from Germany to get a deal on the MMF and recovery plan.”

“The success or failure of the German presidency will be determined by the success, or failure, of the recovery plan. My gut feeling is there will be an agreement and that this will be based on what the Commission has already proposed.”

“I am just glad last week’s Council meeting did not end in a shouting match and that people did not start calling each other names. I still think there will be a deal by July 17 – but this will be the first big test of the German presidency.”

Lamberts played down the importance of 5G, saying, “In Brussels, I have 3G and 4G but I do not have 5G and I do not need 5G for good internet connection.”

He said that 5G could result in “more stringent surveillance” in countries like China.

“China is the world champion when it comes to the surveillance of its citizens. Do we in Europe want to go down the same track?

“When it comes to 5G I do not see the rush. Let’s think about what we are doing and the impact on democracy. After all, what are the benefits? I have yet to see a single benefit of 5G for society. Downloading the latest season of the Game of Thrones in seconds on the metro is not a societal benefit.”

Turning to other issues facing Germany, Lamberts said, “Migration is still a sore point and history will remember if the EU was able to respond collectively to the current economic crisis.”

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