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Event Report Lunch Debate (digital): “A Preliminary Assessment of the German EU Council Presidency”, 15.12.2020

On December 15, 2020, the Institute for European Politics hosted its last digital lunchtime discussion of the year on the topic of “A Prelim­inary Assessment of the German EU Council Presi­dency”, which Germany held in the second half of 2020. Furthermore, the publi­cation and presen­tation of the second, completely revised and updated edition of the IEP’s standard work “Handbuch zur deutschen Europa­politik” (“Handbook on German European Politics”) also served as an occasion for discussion.

Gunther Krichbaum, Member of the Bundestag and Chairman of the Committee on European Union Affairs, and Dr. Katrin Böttger, one of the two directors at the IEP and (co-)editor of the “Handbuch zur deutschen Europa­politik”, reflected on the efforts of Germany’s EU Council Presi­dency and discussed the challenges of the past year together with the participants.

The event was moderated by Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, Senior Advisor of Inter­na­tional Programs at the IEP and (co-)editor of the “Handbuch zur deutschen Europa­politik”. First, Dr. Funda Tekin, one of the two directors at the IEP, welcomed the partic­i­pants, followed by intro­ductory remarks by Jörg Wojahn, Head of the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany. The speeches of Gunther Krichbaum and Katrin Böttger were succeeded by an open and lively discussion which mainly focused on the future of the EU.

The speakers agreed that consid­ering the global Covid-19 pandemic and its immediate challenges, the German EU Presi­dency had been a success. At the same time, however, it was one of the most difficult German presi­dencies due to the pandemic and disputes on the rule of law mechanism and the EU budget.

The compromise on the codifi­cation of the rule of law mechanism which links EU funds to compliance with rule of law principles, was generally supported by the guests, even though they had hoped for a stricter wording. It was empha­sized that Germany had initiated a substantial discussion on possi­bil­ities of sanctioning viola­tions against the rule of law by individual member states. The decision was also important for EU accession candi­dates: To demand that they follow rule-of-law principles that are disre­garded by EU member states would be difficult to justify.

Linked to the rule of law mechanism is the conflict about the EU financial budget, which EU members Poland and Hungary threatened to block in protest against the former. The assessment of the Multi­annual Financial Framework (MFF) and the “Next-Gener­ation EU” recon­struction fund that the member states ultimately agreed upon was positive: “Excep­tional times call for excep­tional measures”, the invited guests agreed. The speakers denied that the EU had crossed the Rubicon by its massive borrowing within the recon­struction fund. The measures were covered by law and for many member states, it would not have been suffi­cient to simply grant loans. At the same time, it was necessary to make sure that this exception would not become a general practice. The more modern design of the MFF, including stronger integration of ecological standards, was seen as a positive signal to younger generations.

The Q&A session and discussion focused on the topics that had not been given enough attention during the German Council Presi­dency, such as EU migration policy or the investment agreement with China, on which an agreement was finally reached shortly before the turn of the year. The Conference on the Future of Europe was also addressed repeatedly. The partic­i­pants affirmed that such an important discussion must be conducted with physical presence and include national parlia­ments. Although the Lisbon Treaty leaves room for inter­pre­tation, some devel­op­ments, such as natural disasters or pandemics, cannot be foreseen. In this respect, the Conference on the Future of Europe could well result in long-term changes such as treaty amendments.

Overall, the rule of law mechanism and the recon­struction fund, as well as the common European vacci­nation strategy and decision to keep national borders open, were seen as signs of a European solidarity that had been missing in the first Covid 19 wave in spring 2020.

The IEP would like to thank Gunther Krichbaum and Katrin Böttger for the lively discussion and Jörg Wohjahn for his opening remarks.

The event was organized in cooper­ation with the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Germany and with the kind support of the German Foreign Office, the Europe for Citizens Programme of the European Union, and the Otto Wolff Foundation.

Author: Laura Worsch