The Federal Republic of Germany holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the second half of 2020. This mainly concerns the Federal Government, which represents Germany in the Council. But Council presidencies are not a purely governmental matter, and the parliaments of countries holding the presidency also host conferences and other events to which they invite other national parliaments and the European Parliament. The Bundestag and the Bundesrat intend to use Germany’s Presidency of the Council to engage in discussions with parliamentarians from the other member states on the challenges currently facing the EU and to enable members of parliament to set out their respective positions and forge closer networking links.
The presidency of the Council and the Troika
The Council of the European Union, in which the governments of the 27 EU member states are represented by their specialised ministers, should not be confused with the European Council, in which the heads of state or government of the EU member states meet on a regular basis, or with the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental body that is not part of the EU structure. The Council of the EU, like the European Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the Court of Auditors, is one of the seven institutions of the European Union. Together with the European Parliament, it performs the legislative role and exercises budgetary authority in the EU framework. It shares responsibility with the member states for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the EU.
The presidency of the Council is exercised by the member states in rotation and changes hands every six months. Each country holding the presidency presents its own programme for the period of its presidency and defines its own priorities. In addition, for six months it chairs Council deliberations and meetings at every level and ensures continuity in the work of the EU. A special role devolves on it as a broker of compromises between member states in the Council and in negotiations with the European Parliament on directives, regulations and other legislative acts of the EU.
For a period of eighteen months, three member states holding the presidency in succession form what is known as a ‘presidency Trio’. Like each single presidency, the trio also presents a joint programme prior to taking office, in which it defines common priorities. The Trio programme may contain new initiatives as well as statements and timetables for the discussion of existing legislative proposals. At the present time, following the Romanian and Finnish presidencies, the presidency Trio is chaired by Croatia, whose presidency of the Council will end on 30 June 2020.
Following the 2019/2020 Trio Presidency of Romania, Finland and Croatia, the German Presidency marks the start of a new Presidency Trio of the Federal Republic of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia, running from 1 July 2020 until 31 December 2021. Once they have been presented, the German Presidency programme can be found here, and that of the presidency Trio here.
The parliamentary dimension of the Council presidency of the EU
The parliamentary dimension of an EU Council presidency is influenced by the issues placed on the agenda by the government of the presiding country. Nevertheless, the parliamentary input is planned and executed by what we might call the presidency parliament on its own responsibility. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the Bundestag performs this role. As the chamber with primary responsibility for shaping the parliamentary dimension of the Council presidency, the Bundestag cooperates with the Bundesrat, the second chamber, in which the federal states, the Länder, are represented and which also plays a part in the parliamentary dimension of the Council presidency.
Before a presidency Trio takes office, the three presidency parliaments issue a joint Trio statement. This includes a specification of their common objectives and outlines the interparliamentary projects that will be implemented during their term in office. The statement for the German-Portuguese-Slovenian presidency of 2020-21 is to be presented by the parliaments of those countries in the early summer of 2020. Each presidency parliament, moreover, adopts its own programme of work, which lists, among other things, the interparliamentary events that it will be hosting. The tasks of the presidency parliament range from organising events to producing draft conclusions to conducting and evaluating conferences. In addition, the parliamentary dimension of the Council presidency normally entails special public-relations activities.
The Bundestag, in cooperation with the Bundesrat in some cases, will hold a number of interparliamentary conferences and meetings in 2020 and 2021 in connection with the German Presidency. These include the following interparliamentary cooperation forums, based on treaties or European agreements, which member states host in rotation:
4 September 2020
CFSP/CSDP Conference (IPC CFSP/CSDP)
“Europe in the pandemic: research and innovation for a more resilient health system” - Conference of Chairpersons of committees on health, research and digital affairs from national parliaments and the European Parliament
14 September and 29 November/1 December 2020
Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union and the European Parliament (COSAC)
28-29 September 2020
Meeting of the Joint Parliamentary Scrutiny Group for Europol (JPSG)
4-5 October 2020
“The European Green Deal and CAP: for a sustainable and climate-neutral Europe” - Conference of Chairpersons of committees on environment, energy, transport and agriculture from national parliaments and the European Parliament
11-13 October 2020
Interparliamentary Conference on Stability, Economic Coordination and Governance in the European Union
8-9 November 2020
“For a social and fair Europe” - Conference of Chairpersons of committees on employment and social affairs, as well as on economic cooperation and development, from national parliaments and the European Parliament
24-25 January 2021
Meeting of the Secretaries-General of the European Union Parliaments
29-30 March 2021
Conference of Speakers of the European Union Parliaments (EUSC)
The Bundestag is also planning three committee conferences, which will address cross-cutting interdepartmental issues and tie into the Europe 2020 agenda by focusing on the priorities of the Commission and of the Federal Government programme for the Council presidency. There will also be meetings with high-ranking representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament. The German Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2020 coincides with the German Presidency of the Council of Europe. For this reason, during Germany’s Presidency of the EU council, the Bundestag will also be hosting the meeting of the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 29 and 30 November 2020.