It looked as though Francisco Ribeiro de Menezes never wanted to come out again. On the occasion of the symbolic handover of the baton – from January 2021 Portugal will take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU from Germany – the Portuguese Ambassador to Germany sat at the wheel of the Infomobil, the mobile information unit, for a press photo, while Bundestag Vice-President Dagmar Ziegler held up a signpost pointing to Lisbon. Then Ambassador Ribeiro de Menezes started up the little electric van and, to everyone’s surprise, drove off between the Reichstag Building and the Jakob-Kaiser complex. One circuit was followed by another, then finally another, before he carefully parked and exited the vehicle, beaming from ear to ear. Anyone who so wished could interpret this as confirmation of the Ambassador’s previous announcement that Portugal was ready to take the driving seat; Portugal was getting up to speed.
Ambassador Ribeiro de Menezes: ready to take over the Presidency from Germany
“We are ready to take over the Presidency from Germany”, the Ambassador had already made clear, thanking the Bundestag for its parliamentary monitoring and support of the Council Presidency in such difficult times. “Our motto for the next six months speaks for itself”, he said: “Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery”. The priorities were to promote the recovery and transition of Europe with due regard to the social and economic consequences of the Covid pandemic, he said, adding that the focus would also be on issues of climate policy, the digital transition, gender justice and migration.
The last-named subject had also been highlighted by Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble in his video message to the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic, transmitted via the Infomobile. He was pleased, he said, that Portugal intended to build on the first Conference on Migration and Asylum that had been held in November and also to follow up the dialogue with members of African parliaments that had been initiated in the COSAC framework. The last six months, President Schäuble continued, had shown that exchanging views and knowledge by video worked too and that “expensive official trips are not needed for every meeting”. Equally, he observed, it had emerged clearly that there was no substitute for personal encounters. “For that reason, we hope that Members of Parliament from all over the EU will soon be able to meet personally again”, said the President of the Bundestag, commenting that Lisbon would make a good meeting place.
Dagmar Ziegler: citizens’ personal encounters are “the spice of European life”
Bundestag Vice-President Dagmar Ziegler too shared the view that there was no substitute for personal encounters. In particular, however, she pointed to encounters between citizens of European countries as “the spice of European life”. It had been all the more regrettable, she said, that the initial response to the crisis had been to close borders and refuse assistance. “Fortunately, however, the Europeans succeeded in changing tack and managing the crisis in the way that close partners can and must expect”. It had been important, she said, that the member states had been able to reach an understanding on a 750-billion-euro recovery package to deal with the consequences of coronavirus. Ms Ziegler welcomed the fact that the dispute about the Rule of Law Mechanism had finally been resolved under the German Presidency, thereby clearing the way for disbursement of the funds.
She was now pleased to pass the baton to Ambassador Ribeiro de Menezes, representing the President of the Assembly of the Republic, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said the Vice-President of the Bundestag. “Portugal will give us a good Presidency of the Council”, Ms Ziegler said with conviction.
13 conferences, 50 hours of discussion and prominent guest speakers
The handover closes a circle that began at the same place almost six months ago. On 1 July 2020, Bundestag Vice-President Claudia Roth inaugurated the mobile information unit for the Parliamentary Dimension of Germany’s Presidency of the Council. At that time the “passionate parliamentarian” made it clear “that such a Council Presidency also has an important parliamentary dimension”.
In twelve video conferences chaired or co-chaired by Germany, a total of almost 1,200 participants engaged in some 50 hours of discussion – not always entirely smoothly, because occasionally a microphone did not work, contributors were loath to use a headset or a broadband link went down.
There were prominent guest speakers at the conferences too – first and foremost the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who engaged in discussions with the Members of Parliament on several occasions. During a COSAC session at the beginning of December, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered an initial review of the German Presidency. German cabinet ministers Heiko Maas (Foreign Affairs), Peter Altmaier (Economic Affairs), Julia Klöckner (Agriculture) and Olaf Scholz (Finance) also contributed to the discussions, as did numerous European Commissioners.
Full-length recordings of all the conference proceedings can be accessed at www.parleu2020.de.
Anyone who so wished could follow the discussions live. All of the conferences were streamed on www.parleu2020.de and can still be accessed today. Twitter, of course, was used too. The Organisational Task Force for the Council Presidency posted 781 Tweets, produced 50 video clips and organised 27 appearances of the mobile information unit.
Bundestag President offers assistance “wherever you might need it”
A Council Presidency is always a challenge for any parliament, not only in substantive terms but also in terms of logistics, Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble had accurately observed in his video message, going on to offer the support and assistance of Bundestag Members and staff, “wherever you might need it”.