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Angela Merkel’s stocktaking of Germany’s Presidency of the Council: compromise is indispensable

Gunther Krichbaum, chair of the Bundestag Committee on EU Affairs, repeated his call for the involvement of national parliaments in the planned Conference on the Future of Europe “on an equal footing” with the European Parliament. During a session of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC) on Monday, 30 November 2020, in a discussion in which Federal Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel took stock of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, Mr Krichbaum said that it was not possible, at the end of the day, to rule out the eventuality of amendments to the EU Treaties. The debate was presided over by Guido Wolf, chair of the Bundesrat Committee on European Union Questions.

Chancellor Merkel wants no prior commitments to Treaty amendments

The Federal Chancellor did not wish to rule out amendments to the Treaties either. There must, however, be no prior commitments, she said, either to adopt or to avoid amendments. The Conference should seek to identify “what is important to people”, she emphasised. It had become apparent during the pandemic, for example, that coordination in the realm of health policy was important. The question, she said, was whether powers in this area had to be transferred to the EU or whether the same result could be achieved through exchanges between the member states. Should the former be the case, “we need a Treaty amendment”. That, however, had to be determined by the nation states. 

In connection with her stocktaking, which was only an interim report, according to Chancellor Merkel, “because we will be working up to the last day”, she covered a wide range of subjects in the discussion with COSAC members; besides the Covid pandemic, it covered foreign-policy issues such as the EU’s relations with China and Turkey as well as asylum and migration, climate policy and Brexit. With regard to the negotiations between the EU and the United Kingdom, Dr Merkel still hoped for a “good ending”. She made clear that, while a Brexit agreement was in everyone’s interest, it was “not the case that any price is worth paying” to obtain it. 

Recovery fund as a response to the coronavirus pandemic

The Chancellor described the adoption of the recovery fund by the European Council in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which was a “once-in-a-lifetime event”. Because of the objections of Hungary and Poland to the stipulations on the rule of law, however, funds could not yet be paid out, she said. “We are trying to find a solution, because that would be a very important signal”, she said in answer to calls from delegates for a prompt solution so that the funds could be released. It will certainly not be easy. Angela Merkel spoke of having to “square the circle” because of the need for unanimity in the European Council. “It will not work without compromise”, she said. 

Still on the subject of compromise, the Chancellor said that it was also indispensable in relations with Turkey and China. She explicitly opposed the call made by several Members of Parliament for the EU to rethink and reshape its relations with China. The question of democracy and respect for human rights, she said, had always played a part in relations with China. Germany, for example, had been conducting a human rights dialogue with China for many years. A look at China’s economic development made it evident that the country had become “a very important economic player in the world”. It was therefore “in our own interest”, the Chancellor said, to maintain the best possible relations with China. Moreover, she pointed out, international agreements on matters such as climate action were irrelevant if China was not a party to them. 

Merkel: Turkey deserves great appreciation for taking in refugees

Addressed by COSAC members from Cyprus and Greece about the “aggressive” conduct of Turkey, the Chancellor acknowledged that the Turkish activities in the Mediterranean were “of a very provocative nature”. These would be on the agenda at the forthcoming meeting of the European Council on 10 and 11 December 2020, she announced. But here, too, Dr Merkel saw “another side”. Turkey, she said, was the country “that has taken in the most refugees in the world”. If we considered how difficult the EU finds it to deal with migration issues, she said, “then Turkey deserves great appreciation for what it does in that sphere”. The Chancellor expressed herself in favour of continuing to support Turkey in those endeavours.

Combating smugglers and traffickers

This brought her to the equally hotly debated issue of asylum and migration. Here, too, she said, progress was difficult to achieve at the European level, but added, “I nevertheless believe that the package presented by the European Commission addresses the right issues and tasks”. She called for solidarity with and assistance for those states that are countries of entry for refugees and destinations of internal migration. The crux of the whole matter, she said, was the need to combat smugglers and traffickers: “We can do that best if we can take refugees back to their countries of origin when they have no right of residence, in other words if they come here for the purpose of migrating”. At the same time, she said, more legal residence opportunities had to be created, for example through opportunities for study and work.

Climate action: Germany supports 55% less CO2

The target of a 55% cut in CO2emissions by 2030 which was mooted by the European Commission would also feature in the deliberations of the European Council, said the Federal Chancellor. She made it clear that Germany supported the setting of that target, even though it would require strenuous efforts, and advocated an extension of emission allowance trading to that end. “But we must always think of our industrial strength too”, the Federal Chancellor added, calling for attainable requirements. Particularly in view of the present crisis, major industries such as mechanical engineering and car manufacturing must not be confronted with a transition “that is totally unachievable”. 

Guido Wolf, chair of the Bundesrat Committee on European Union Questions, thanked Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel for her wide-ranging presentation and wished her great strength and ingenuity for the negotiations on the home straight of Germany’s Presidency of the Council. (hau/1 December 2020)

The report on sessions I and II can be read here.

The report on session IV can be read here.

The report on session V can be read here.

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion on 30 November 2020 and 1 December 2020

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

Here you can get a brief insight into the topics discussed at the Virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion (COSAC), or­ganised by the German Bundestag in cooper­ation with the Bundesrat on 30 November and 1st December 2020 in Berlin

More information can be found here.

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  • Type of media Video
  • Format MP4

Recording of the virtual Confer­ence of Par­lia­men­tary Com­mit­tees for Un­ion Af­fairs of Par­lia­ments of the Eu­ro­pean Un­ion

00:05:31

Film of the Conference of the Virtual COSAC

00:00:57

Gunther Krichbaum at the virtual COSAC

00:01:38

Thomas Hacker at the virtual COSAC

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