“High expectations” for German EU presidency, says senior MEP

Senior Greens MEP Bas Eickhout says Germany takes over the helm of the EU from Croatia during “unprecedented times” for the bloc.
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By Martin Banks

01 Jul 2020

Speaking at an online event to mark the start of Germany’s six-month EU Council presidency, Dutch MEP Eickhout said, “There are high expectations of the German presidency. Expectations were already high before the health crisis because of issues such as migration and asylum. These were already piling up and then the Coronavirus crisis started.”

He added, “The crisis means the EU needs to get its act together, particularly in a world which has become more and more divided, with people looking after their own interests. It is now crucial how the EU positions itself on the world stage but first the EU must get its own act together.”

This was a reference to the current “bickering” over the Commission’s recovery plan and next long-term budget, the MMF, both of which will be discussed at the upcoming EU summit on 17 July.

Eickhout said, “The EU’s initial response to the health crisis was not super impressive. Ten years ago, during the euro crisis, the EU did not come up with a credible European investment programme and that is something that must change this time.”

“There are high expectations of the German presidency. Expectations were already high before the health crisis because of issues such as migration and asylum. These were already piling up and then the Coronavirus crisis started” Bas Eickhout MEP

The MEP, who is Vice-President of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, noted that in May, the Parliament adopted a resolution calling for such a programme.

He said the Commission faces a “big battle” getting its recovery plan, known as “Next generation EU”, adopted because of opposition from the “frugal 4”, a group of four northern European countries who fear most funding will go to the Member States in the south.

“Germany needs to guide these discussions and stop the bickering between Member States,” added Eickhout, who is also Vice-Chair of Parliament’s Environment Committee.

“The current discussions on the recovery plan have been about ‘who is getting what.’ That has been the biggest focus but this does not make for the most inspiring of discussions.”

“The debate should be ‘where does the money go’ and ‘what are we funding,’ not who we are funding. This should be at the core of the discussions taking place on the recovery plan and MMF.”

“This is a very important presidency and I expect Germany to improve on this. If Angela Merkel can do this then this presidency can also signal the start of what is a badly-needed investment programme for Europe.”

He said, “The 4 frugals, and I come from one of them, have made their positions clear so we must show them that, with the recovery plan, the EU is investing in the future and that this is not just another EU fund whose efficiency is to be questioned.”

Expectations for the German EU presidency, the webinar heard, were “all the more considering Germany’s strength and relatively successful COVID response.”

The online media briefing, “Building back better? Challenges and expectations for the German EU Presidency,” was told that during its term, Germany will lead contentious negotiations about the allocation of “huge sums of money that could fundamentally reset the European economy for the next 10 years.”

“The German presidency represents the moment of truth on this. We are at the crossroads and EU leaders, meeting this month, will have to choose either the Green Deal or risk losing a decade of effort on climate action” Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation

Participants heard that the EU leaders meeting on 17-18 July will be the “first test for the presidency’s negotiation skills.”

At the same time, Berlin will have to secure an agreement between Member States on the Commission’s proposal to increase the EU’s climate target for 2030 and enshrine the new 2030 and 2050 targets in the climate law.

Internationally, all eyes will be on Germany’s efforts to manage an increasingly complex relationship with China and whether cooperation on a “greening recovery” can accelerate the transition to a sustainable and stable global economy.

A majority of countries back a higher 2030 climate target and investments in resilience and sustainability in line with the Green Deal but, it was said, “big stumbling blocks lie ahead.”

Another speaker, Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation and France's former climate change ambassador, said the recovery plan and, in particular, the European Green Deal was a “last chance” for Merkel “to leave her legacy.”

Member State support for both would, she said, “illuminate the end of her term in office.”

“To do so though she will have to accommodate the concerns of the frugal 4 in the north of Europe.”

The €750 billion recovery plan was an “unprecedented sum of money” which Tubiana hopes will also be used to facilitate the transition to carbon neutrality.

She said, “The German presidency represents the moment of truth on this. We are at the crossroads and EU leaders, meeting this month, will have to choose either the Green Deal or risk losing a decade of effort on climate action.”

“It is a make or break moment for Europe and also for climate action,” added Tubiana, a special representative for COP21 and a member of French President Emmanuel Macron’s High Council on Climate Change.

“There is no time to lose. The EU now has to show it is credible on fighting climate action and I hope the frugal 4 will change their minds.”

She said, “The danger, though, is that the EU will address the unemployment and economic crisis first and leave the climate transition until later. It is very important, therefore, that this month’s EU summit gives the right signal on this.”

A third panellist, Marcin Korolec, former Polish environment minister and president of COP19, believes the EU recovery plan is “a good combination of several objectives, including the transition to a climate neutral Europe.”

He added, “The Commission should, however, conduct an impact assessment showing how the recovery plan will contribute to meeting higher climate targets.”

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