The fight against the COVID‑19 pandemic has shaped Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. But the EU has also made crucial progress on other key issues thanks to an outward show of unity backed by inward solidarity.
The fight against COVID‑19
The EU stands together in the fight against COVID‑19. Not least thanks to many European scientists and European research efforts, a vaccine has been developed, procured and distributed in record time. COVID‑19 vaccination programmes are shortly to begin in the EU. All EU citizens will have the chance to be vaccinated within the foreseeable future – a crucial step in ending the pandemic. Germany is working to ensure that the EU will give the vaccine to countries in particular need of assistance as well. During its Council Presidency, Germany has also succeeded in improving the coordination within the EU of efforts to tackle the pandemic, with an EU-wide map of risk areas, uniform rules for entry from third countries and joint work on testing strategies and contact tracing. Since the outbreak of the COVID‑19 pandemic, Germany has taken in and treated over 260 intensive care patients from neighbouring states, and has sent many items of equipment such as masks and ventilators to partner countries in the EU.
Multiannual financial framework and Next Generation EU recovery fund
After lengthy negotiations, the EU passed a multiannual financial framework (MFF) – in other words, a budget for the next few years – based on a Franco-German proposal, and approved funds for its recovery following the COVID‑19 pandemic. The Next Generation EU recovery fund amounts to 750 billion euro and is a new instrument intended to provide citizens with rapid assistance. It is directed primarily at countries particularly hard-hit by the COVID‑19 pandemic and its consequences. Meanwhile, the multiannual financial framework for the next seven years amounts to 1.07 trillion euro. It places particular priority on more money for health, climate change mitigation, the digital transformation and youth exchanges.
There is another new element to the new budget: for the first time, the disbursement of EU funds is tied to respect for rule of law standards. Germany campaigned intensively right to the end in order to make this possible. The resulting package makes the EU fit for a green and innovative future – and it strengthens European values.
Strengthening the rule of law
The rule of law is the foundation for the EU as a community of shared values whose citizens enjoy protection for their rights and freedoms. That is why Germany launched a new rule of law dialogue among EU partners in the Council during its Presidency. The aim is to consolidate the common understanding of the rule of law in the EU through frank exchange. In a “horizontal” debate, all 27 states discussed the general rule of law situation in the EU. A second round of discussions examined the situation in an initial five member states; gradually all member states will be looked at. This review of the rule of law situation is intended to heighten the shared awareness of the issue and to identify problematic developments at an early stage. Portugal will continue the dialogue next year during its Council Presidency.
Germany is committed to a European Union that strengthens its ability to take action and shape events – in areas like security, technology and the digital transformation, trade policy or monetary policy. The EU pools its resources and acts as one, not least externally, because in the competition between the great powers, nation-states alone can no longer influence the global order. In the field of security policy, Germany launched a Strategic Compass during its Presidency. Under this strategy, on the basis of a threat analysis, EU member states will exchange views on relevant security and defence issues and decide on a common line. Germany has also successfully concluded lengthy negotiations regarding the Permanent Structured Cooperation: in future, non-EU member states will be able to participate in relevant EU security and defence projects. This will also strengthen the European pillar of NATO and cooperation between the EU and NATO as a whole.
But conflicts can never be resolved by military means alone. To ensure sustainable peace, Germany is promoting and strengthening civilian crisis management as a key element of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. With the establishment of the European Centre of Excellence for Civilian Crisis Management in Berlin, the German Government is making an important contribution to achieving this aim. The EU member states and their partners will use the Centre to pool their knowledge and train staff in order to improve EU-led civilian missions.
The EU: a leader in climate change mitigation
Europe continues to lead the way in climate change mitigation. By 2030, the EU wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by at least 55%; by 2050, we want to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent. During its Council Presidency, the German Government successfully worked for these goals to be enshrined in a European Climate Law. The targets are ambitious, but at the same time they afford huge opportunities: the transition towards greater sustainability is to pay off in economic terms. And what’s more, at least 30% of EU expenditure in the next seven years is to be allocated to climate change mitigation. We are acting together for a green recovery.
Commitment to human rights and conflict resolution
The EU has approved a new political instrument against severe human rights violations such as torture, slavery and systematic sexual violence. With the human rights sanctions regime, the EU is now able to refuse entry to individuals or freeze their assets. Germany in particular spoke out within the EU in support of this move.
Mediation is equally important for conflict resolution. For example, mediation between parties to the conflict got the peace talks underway in Libya. Germany also promoted this instrument at a European level during its Presidency, and the EU Foreign Ministers have agreed on a new mediation concept. As a consequence, the Council of the EU can, for the first time, decide on missions on its own – for a strong EU as a global peace actor.
Multilateralism, democracy and free trade as common guiding values – the EU is bolstering its relations with key regions. The EU and the ASEAN states in Southeast Asia are now strategic partners. Germany has stepped up its involvement in the Indo-Pacific region even further. The EU has also held a major virtual conference with Latin American and Caribbean countries, who share our goals of climate change mitigation, biodiversity, sustainable economic activity and values-led digitalisation. Meanwhile, it has offered the US a “new deal” with the Biden administration that aims to strengthen the rules-based order and revive the transatlantic partnership.
Portugal and Slovenia: partners in the trio Presidency
Continuity is especially important when it comes to tackling certain contentious issues in the EU. Regardless of which member state currently holds the Presidency of the EU Council, solutions to major issues such as the rule of law, migration or climate change mitigation require constant political impetus. Not all reforms can be completed within six months. Germany is therefore collaborating particularly closely with its successors Portugal and Slovenia over the 18 months of the trio’s Presidencies. Portugal will press on with many recently introduced initiatives, such as the rule of law dialogue, after taking the helm on 1 January 2021.