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Video conference with the European Parliament on coronavirus and the EU's future

The Presidents of the German Bundestag and the European Parliament, together with the chairs of the parliamentary groups in the German Bundestag and the European Parliament’s political groups, held a video conference on Wednesday, 27 May 2020, five weeks before the start of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The video conference kicked off the parliamentary dimension of the Council Presidency.

Challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

During the meeting, which was chaired by the President of the Bundestag, Dr Wolfgang Schäuble, and the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, the parliamentarians discussed the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic with regard to a resilient, sustainable and fair Europe, the multiannual financial framework (MFF) and the prospects for the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The discussion also covered the joint proposal for an EU recovery fund put forward by the German Chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel (CDU), and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, as well as the European Commission’s recovery plan, presented that morning in the European Parliament by the President of the Commission, Dr Ursula von der Leyen.

Schäuble: Making Europe more globally competitive

In his introductory remarks, Dr Schäuble underlined the great importance of a parliamentary dimension to Germany’s Presidency of the Council involving both the European Parliament and the Bundestag. “The democratic legitimacy of European policymaking requires both of these parliamentary levels,” he said.

At the same time, he called for the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic to be seen as an opportunity “to now make Europe more innovative, more open to technology in key areas for the future, particularly digitalisation and artificial intelligence, more economically dynamic and more globally competitive on the basis of its own strength”.

“The consequences of migration as a priority for the Council Presidency”

Schäuble also announced that dealing with the consequences of global migration would be a priority for the German Presidency of the Council. He said that he was proposing the joint organisation of a high-level conference on migration and asylum, to be held at the European Parliament in the autumn of this year.

This proposal met with support from the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli. It could be “relevant and useful” if such a conference allowed common standards to be developed, Sassoli said. He expressed his confidence that the conference could strengthen cooperation between the parliaments and also offer concrete approaches to resolving the migration crisis.

“Funds should be used to finance future-oriented projects”

In the subsequent discussion, the chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Ralph Brinkhaus, underlined that the involvement of the national parliaments in Europe’s work was “incredibly important”, as this creates the legitimacy for advancing the European project.

Regarding the opportunities offered by the response to the crisis, he said that it was “not wise” to work towards restoring the pre-crisis status quo. Instead, funds should be used to finance future-oriented projects.

“Large companies should play a greater role in financing recovery efforts”

Manfred Weber, chair of the EPP (European People’s Party) group in the European Parliament, stressed the importance of compliance with the rule of law when it came to the allocation of funds in Europe. It was also important not to lose sight of the question of how and when the funds were to be repaid, he said. Weber said that he was not a fan of a debt-based approach. Even if there was currently no other option, it was wrong to simply include the debt in the new financial framework from 2027. He said that his group believed that there should be a discussion about own resources. For example, large companies such as Amazon should play a greater role in financing recovery efforts.

Dr Alice Weidel, chairwoman of the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said that an impending major recession, coupled with inflation, represented a very dangerous scenario for the whole of Europe, because it would be accompanied by unemployment. This could not be countered by monetary policy, in her view. However, she believed that the challenges could not be solved by more redistribution. She said that potential approaches instead included a restructuring of tax policy and business parameters to promote greater individual responsibility.

“Giving the greatest support to those in need of help”

Iratxe Garcia Perez, president of the S&D (Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats) group in the European Parliament, called for solidarity when it came to recovery. The greatest support should be given to those most in need of help, she said. But it was not just a question of solidarity, Garcia Perez emphasised; it was a matter of survival for the euro and the single market. She said that a situation could not be allowed to develop where some countries were able to rescue their companies by providing financial assistance while other countries were unable to do so. It would lead to a distortion of the single market, she warned.

Dr Rolf Mützenich, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said that it was essential to advance the transformation towards social and environmental reform – even outside of the coronavirus crisis. Minimum social standards and an unemployment reinsurance scheme were important issues for his parliamentary group. There was no intention to change the primacy of EU law in these cases, Mützenich said.

“Acting responsibly in a spirit of solidarity”

Malik Azmani, vice-president of the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, expressed confidence that there could be solutions to the economic crisis “if Europe acts responsibly and in a spirit of solidarity”. He said that his group believed that the most important issue – including in the context of the multiannual financial framework – was that of the rule of law. It was necessary to take action if these rules were not upheld, he stressed.

Christian Lindner, chairman of the FDP parliamentary group in the Bundestag, said that the German Presidency of the Council of the EU – and the multiannual financial framework – must not be dominated solely by coronavirus. Instead, a general modernisation agenda was needed. Lindner also called for solidarity to be linked to clear responsibilities. Not all of the deficits being complained about today could be explained by the pandemic, he said.

“Mere lip service is being paid to subsidiarity”

In the view of Professor Jörg Meuthen, vice-chair of the Identity and Democracy group in the European Parliament, the coronavirus crisis is being “misused” to push through even more far-reaching centralisation at EU level. There was much talk of subsidiarity, but mere lip service was being paid to it, he said. The term “solidarity” was currently all the rage, Meuthen said. Solidarity was indeed the order of the day, but what was actually being sought was crude socialist redistribution.

According to Dr Dietmar Bartsch, chairman of the Left Party parliamentary group in the Bundestag, the EU’s positioning in global politics poses a major challenge. The current situation, in which the global powers of the United States and China were declaring individual countries to be their allies, would lead to problems for Europe – including for Germany, despite its supposed strength, Bartsch said.

“No return to the status quo after the crisis”

Philippe Lamberts, co-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said that it was good that Germany was assuming the Presidency of the Council at such a difficult time. Germany was ultimately one of the member states where the parliament had genuine powers, he said. Lamberts also emphasised that the aim must not be to return to the status quo after the crisis. He said that he was pleased that this view was shared by Ralph Brinkhaus, the chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group in the Bundestag. After all, Germany had often applied the brakes when it came to change in the past, he said.

Dr Anton Hofreiter, chairman of the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group in the Bundestag, called for money to be invested in future-oriented technologies. He argued that proactive steps needed to be taken to address the climate crisis, for example, “to ensure it does not become a climate catastrophe”.

“A clear EU stance towards the United States”

Raffaele Fitto, co-chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament, called for a clear EU stance towards the United States. This was fundamentally important for Europe, he said.

Martin Schirdewan, co-president of the European United Left (GUE/NGL) group in the European Parliament, called for investment in the future. Action was needed to strengthen the social dimension of the EU, he said. At the same time, he welcomed the plan for joint borrowing and for the funds to be passed on to the member states. This represented a necessary paradigm shift, Schirdewan said. (hau / 27 May 2020)

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