On 1 July, Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union will begin, allowing it a greater say in EU affairs than usual. Germany will chair and moderate the meetings of the Council and be responsible for the whole range of preparations.
The Council of the EU is very important and plays a special role. You can imagine it as a big round table, where different politicians take their seats in turn. On one day it might be the environment ministers of the 27 member states who meet around the table. The next time, it might be the economics ministers, the social-affairs ministers, or another set of ministers. The Council is therefore also known as the Council of Ministers.
The discussions at this table impact on our daily lives, since all the ministers present at the meetings have the power to commit the government of the member state in question and cast its vote. So the Council takes key decisions, and it is one of the seven EU institutions.
The presidency rotates amongst the EU member states. The country holding the presidency can take the initiative and demonstrate political leadership. The Presidency of the Council will give Germany an opportunity to put its own ideas and goals on the agenda of the EU – at a time when Europe is particularly under pressure due to the coronavirus and a range of other problems.
A team of three
The Council of the EU has what are called trio presidencies: three countries work together, passing the baton to the next member of the team like in a relay race. Germany is taking on the first leg and sharing its Presidency with Portugal and Slovenia. From January to June 2021, Portugal will be at the helm, followed by Slovenia from July to December 2021. In January 2022, the new trio presidency consisting of France, the Czech Republic and Sweden will begin.
Each team of three sets out a framework with long-term goals and a range of important questions to be dealt with during the eighteen months of the trio presidency – and each of the three countries then presents a detailed plan for the six months of its own presidency.
Environment, finances, family etc.
These meetings of specialist ministers from the different policy areas give Germany an opportunity to feed its ideas into each of the councils. Germany’s ministry of family affairs will obviously have different priorities to its finance or environment ministry, for example.
Uwe Finke-Timpe, who heads the division for European and international youth policy at the ministry of family affairs, says for example that his ministry will be working to ensure a positive image for Europe. The idea, he explains, is to counter current tendencies towards policymaking at nation-state level and away from EU-level solutions. He adds that they will also be aiming to make progress on the three main pillars of the EU’s youth strategy.
The working programme for the area of interior affairs and community, meanwhile, stresses the German Federal Government’s planned focus on combating terrorism, particularly right-wing terrorism, along with hate crimes and anti-Semitism.
In this way, Germany can move forward issues in a wide spectrum of policy areas. In late 2019, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel announced during an appearance in Parliament that Germany would initiate an EU-Africa summit.
Other important aspects
As well as chairing the Council of the EU, Germany has other tasks to perform during the Presidency: it will represent the Council in dealings with other EU institutions, mainly the Commission and the European Parliament.
In this context, close cooperation with other important EU players is important – i.e. with the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. These posts are currently held by Charles Michel from Belgium and Josep Borrell from Spain.
In addition, Germany can now take over certain tasks from the High Representative in order to support him.
Presidency of the Council of the EU: what does it mean for the German Parliament, the Bundestag?
The Bundestag will play an active role during the Council Presidency. A range of conferences will take place there, bringing together members of parliament from the 27 countries of the EU to discuss pressing issues. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the events – at least until the end of September – will not take place as physical meetings at the Bundestag, but will take the form of video conferences. This will be technically challenging, since the conferences are to be simultaneously interpreted into several languages. In order to make sure that all of this runs smoothly, a special EU Council Presidency Organisational Task Force was set up at the Bundestag in January 2019.
Meetings on coronavirus, climate change and social affairs
Events began on 27 May, when the Bundestag’s President (speaker), together with the chairs of its parliamentary groups, met representatives of the European Parliament and its political groups in the form of a video conference. A series of further conferences are planned. Some of these will be the standard conferences which take place during each presidency of the Council, such as a meeting on foreign and security policy, along with one on budget, finance and economic policy.
The Bundestag has also initiated three meetings itself, though, to make progress on topics of particular importance to the members of the EU Affairs Committee: a conference on the coronavirus and how Europe can learn from the crisis and emerge stronger from it, a conference on climate change and the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, along with a conference on the subject of a ‘social Europe’.
The conferences will be broadcast as a live stream, so you can watch them on your screens. You can also follow events via Twitter.