How does the Federal Government make decisions on European policy?

Nowadays European policy covers all policy fields. .. To be an effective advocate of Germany’s interests in Brussels, we need efficient policy coordination within the Federal Government.

The Federal Government participates in the European Union legislative process via the Council of the European Union, on which the Governments of the member states are represented. Before the Federal Government can contribute coherently to deliberations in the Council and its preparatory bodies, the various Federal ministries in Berlin and Bonn first need to agree on a joint German position on each individual proposal.

Coordinating German policy on Europe

When the Commission adopts a proposal for new legislation, the responsible (lead) ministry must ensure that the Federal Government has an agreed position on the proposal before it is debated for the first time in the Council bodies. The lead ministry informs all other ministries affected by the new proposal and invites their opinions. These form the basis for the Federal Government’s negotiating position in the Council.

Responsibility for coordinating the entire national opinion-forming process on a European proposal lies with the lead ministry. This ministry is responsible in particular for:

  • keeping the Bundestag and the Bundesrat informed,
  • involving other ministries,
  • preparing negotiating positions for the Federal Government’s representatives in Brussels.

The guiding principle for coordinating policy on Europe is consultation and conflict resolution at the lowest possible level. Since it is not always possible to reach an agreed position on EU matters immediately, a number of bodies exist at various levels to expedite the decision-making process and resolve any conflicts of interest between ministries as quickly as possible.

State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs

The State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs was established in 1963 to discuss fundamental European issues. If the ministries themselves (up to director-general level) are unable to agree on major EU issues relevant to several ministries, the Committee’s task is to discuss and decide on these issues. Its role is to settle all contentious matters wherever possible so as to avoid the need for the Cabinet to discuss European issues.

The Committee is chaired by the Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, Michael Roth. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is the deputy chair. The Federal Foreign Office as a ministry is further represented by State Secretary Markus Ederer. The German Permanent Representative to the European Union is also a member of the Committee. The Committee generally meets once a month. The Federal Foreign Office EU Coordination Group acts as its secretariat.

Minister of State Roth also takes part in the section of the weekly Cabinet meetings devoted to European policy.

European Affairs Directors-General

Below the level of the State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs, the European Affairs Directors-General from the various ministries have the task of identifying and eliminating possible differences of opinion on European issues. This group generally also meets once a month, between the State Secretaries Committee meetings, alternately at the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The meetings are co‑chaired by representatives of the two ministries. The aims of this group are in particular to:

  • raise awareness in the ministries of politically relevant and/or controversial dossiers which are soon up for decision or shortly to be submitted by the European Commission (“early warning”);
  • coordinate joint positions on European policy dossiers and agree on further procedure;
  • document conflicts that cannot be resolved at this level for the State Secretaries Committee so that this body can deal swiftly with such cases;
  • monitor the implementation of EU directives and infringement proceedings against Germany.

Heads of EU Affairs in Federal Ministries

Each ministry has a Head of EU Affairs, normally the head of the coordination division in the ministry’s European Affairs Directorate-General. The Heads of EU Affairs do not have a regular schedule, but meet ad hoc under the chairmanship of the head of the EU Coordination Group at the Federal Foreign Office. They discuss both basic issues (e.g. organisation of European policy coordination, the German language in the EU) and procedural matters (e.g. preparation and follow‑up for meetings of the State Secretaries responsible for European affairs or involvement of the Permanent Representation in correspondence between the Federal Ministries and EU organs and offices).

An early-warning system for European policy: the EU Coordination Group

The EU Coordination Group (E‑KR) was set up in late 2000 with the aim of ensuring effective coordination of policy on Europe in keeping with the Federal Foreign Office’s competences (conceptual and strategic coherence of policy). The EU Coordination Group, part of the European Directorate-General at the Federal Foreign Office, constantly analyses the opinion-forming process in the European institutions and the other EU member states, so as to identify potential conflicts at an early stage and to specify any action required. It seeks to answer the following questions:

What proposals and initiatives is the Commission planning? Could these conflict with German legislation? Could German interests be adversely affected? Are differences of opinion between the ministries foreseeable? How can the Federal Government effectively advocate its position? Is there a danger of Germany becoming isolated during any ongoing negotiations with the other member states in the Council on EU legislative proposals? Might it be outvoted? Must Germany’s negotiating position perhaps be altered? Does the ongoing coordination between the ministries on individual EU policy proposals function smoothly or are there potential conflicts that have to be resolved?

Within the process of coordination in the Federal Government, E‑KR is responsible above all for ensuring timely coordination and passing on instructions relating to Federal Foreign Office competences to the Permanent Representatives Committee, for preparing the meetings of European Affairs Directors-General, acting as a secretariat for the State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs and drawing up the weekly Cabinet talking points on Europe.

Embassy EU Affairs Officers

Germany’s embassies in the other EU member states supplement the German Permanent Representation’s negotiating efforts by directly lobbying governments and persuading the public of Germany’s aims, as well as explaining the reasons for German positions.

These activities are coordinated or personally undertaken by the EU Affairs Officers at the embassies in the EU member states. These officers also follow the European policy “agenda” in their host country and report on the focuses and positions of its European policy. There are also EU Affairs Officers at Germany’s embassies in the candidate states with which accession negotiations are under way (currently Iceland, Montenegro, Turkey and Serbia).

To carry out their tasks, the EU Affairs Officers need up‑to‑date, comprehensive and specific information on European policy actions from the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. The EU Coordination Group, as part of its functions, provides the Officers with that information.

Last updated 06.06.2014

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