At a video conference chaired by Guido Wolf, Chairman of the Committee on European Union Questions at the Bundesrat, and Gunther Krichbaum, Chairman of the Committee on European Union Affairs at the German Bundestag, representatives from the national parliaments discussed how the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic could be better mastered with the support of the German Council Presidency. This was no easy task for the two chairs, as the video connection was not always the most stable. Yet even if, as Wolf put it “technology was not always on our side”, it was important, he continued, “to maintain a dialogue”. Nothing could replace an in-person meeting, added Krichbaum in light of the slightly bumpy course of the meeting, before announcing that all efforts would be undertaken to ensure that the next COSAC meeting was able to be held in the Reichstag Building in Berlin – while, of course, maintaining distancing protocols.
Federal Foreign Minister Maas speaks of a historic decision
The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas explained the focal points of the German Council Presidency, citing among other aspects the adoption of the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework, Brexit, the “bone of contention” of migration, and digital transformation.
In reference to the EU’s agreement on joint borrowing, Maas spoke of a “historic decision by the European Council”. Europe had shown that “when things get tough, we are in a position to take decisions together that allow us to emerge from the crisis in a spirit of solidarity”, he stated. Negotiations had been started with the European Parliament at the end of August, he continued, and had not proved easy. “We want to conclude these quickly, so that the financial support arrives where it is required quickly”, emphasized Maas.
Brexit situation “alarming”
The Foreign Minister referred to the latest developments regarding the UK’s departure from the EU as alarming. If the legislation put forward by Prime Minister Johnson were to come into force, it would represent a violation of international law. With a view to the United Kingdom, Maas urged for a degree of reliability to be shown. The end of the year could actually result in No Deal, he said. Preparations for such a scenario were already being made, although the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier would be supported in his efforts to reach an agreement.
Another important topic according to Maas is that of digital transformation. Success in expanding Europe’s sovereignty was essential. Migration was a difficult topic, “because the positions of the member states are very, very far apart”. The German Council Presidency would support the European Commission, he said, which intended this week to make proposals of how to manage the situation regarding the refugee camp in Moria. There would also be support, however, for the organization of an overhaul of European asylum and migration policy, he stated.
Sanctions against electoral fraudsters in Belarus
On the topic of Belarus, the Foreign Minister stressed that “the EU needs to take a very concrete position on this.” It was not possible to look past electoral fraud and blatant human rights violations, he continued. As a first step, sanctions would be imposed on over 40 people for whom there was clear evidence of involvement in electoral fraud and human rights abuses, he announced.
Dita Charanzová, Vice-President of the European Parliament, spoke about the recovery plan, which she called a step “welcomed by all”. The plan would allow Europe to emerge stronger from the crisis, she said. She highlighted the active involvement of the European Parliament. However, more funds needed to be allocated in the areas of digital transformation and health, she concluded.
Role of the parliaments at the Conference on the Future of Europe
Reinhold Lopatka, Chairman of the EU Sub-Committee at the Austrian National Council, was the first to speak in the debate and raised a request that had been made by a number of national parliaments, calling for the Conference on the Future of Europe to provide substantial results and for appropriate participation rights for the national parliaments – demands that met with support from Maas. Both civil society and the national parliaments needed to play a role in this process, Lopatka continued. He hoped an understanding with the European Parliament and the Commission could be reached in this respect.
Timmermans sees “unique chance”
The Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, also believes that the parliaments have an important role. In order to be able to implement the Council decisions on recovery, ratification by the parliaments would be needed, he said. The Vice-President went on to say that even before the pandemic, it had been clear that Europe needed a new growth strategy. That was why the Green Deal had been created. The pandemic opened up the possibility, he said, for Europe to restructure its economy. “Restructuring cannot wait. We now have a unique chance”, Timmermans stressed. The financial support now made available needed to also be invested in a future economy, he continued. That is why the Green Deal is the right path, said the Vice-President. The rest of the world will follow if Europe leads the way, he was confident.
Western Balkan states encouraged to phase out coal
Timmermans recommended that the EU candidate countries in the Western Balkan region “stay as close as possible to the European Green Deal”. If possible, they should pursue the aim of climate neutrality by 2050, because the EU was moving in this direction. The phasing out of coal-fired power would contribute greatly towards a positive dynamic on the road to the integration of these countries in the EU, according to Timmermans.
Wolf and Krichbaum draw positive conclusion
The discussion had shown that “we have reason to be optimistic and confident”, concluded the Chairman of the Committee on European Union Questions at the Bundesrat, Guido Wolf. Despite major challenges, Europe was on track. It was important to speak with one voice, he added. “Only then are we in a position to find convincing, effective solutions.”
Krichbaum viewed it as important to „get the people on board“. Citizens expect Europe to offer solutions for the challenges of the era, said the Chairman of the Committee on European Union Affairs at the Bundestag. (hau/14.09.2020)
Here you can watch a recording of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) Meeting on 14 September 2020 in Berlin.
More information can be found here.