Germany assumes the Presidency of the Council amid Covid19 crisis and recovery

Germany has taken the reins of the Council on July 1st until December 31st, and this has been framed as the final chance for Angela Merkel’s legacy on the European scene. The head of the EU’s largest economy will have plenty of opportunities to distinguish herself in EU politics. 

In the six months to come, she will have to deal with the completely unprecedented Covid19 crisis and ensuing economic recovery needs, the final Brexit negotiations and shepherding the Climate Law, enshrining climate neutrality in EU law (and still difficult to accept for some EU states).

Looking at the German Presidency’s programme, the pandemic and recovery have unsurprisingly been pushed to the top of the agenda. Germany has already been active trying to spur EU action to respond to the crisis as Merkel met with Macron in May and emphasised both states’ commitment to a European recovery plan. Since then, the Commission has put proposed a €750bn “Next Generation EU” fund to face the economic crisis on top of the EU budget, already under negotiations as the pandemic broke out. Getting EU member states to agree on this potentially contentious issue is now the top priority of the German Chancellor. 

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called for a meeting of EU heads of state on 17 and 18 July to discuss the EU budget (supposed to start on January 1st, 2021), which comprises the recovery fund, and Merkel is poised to play a role in leading the member states towards a swift agreement, which she hopes to reach before the summer break. 

However, while the pandemic and economic recovery dominate political agendas, the German Presidency has set out other accompanying priorities. 

Climate and energy policies have become tremendously salient in the last year, leading to the announcement of the EU Green Deal (our “man-on-the-moon” moment, according to Ursula Von der Leyen). The Presidency’s programme clearly shows that the new concerns have taken over the green agenda. The sustainability objective is now in fourth place (out of six) in this programme and warns that such policies will have to be economically and socially feasible to be enacted, even though it still mentions the Green Deal as tied to the recovery efforts. Gases are still prominent and it shows ambition for scaling hydrogen production and infrastructure, mirroring recent announcements the German government made at national level. Broader objectives are also featured in this programme, with vague commitments towards the Climate Law and the UN’s nationally determined contributions, and for carbon pricing and leakage.

Transport is addressed to a somewhat larger extent with aims to contribute to the formulation of the Commission’s Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy, and provide for sustainable transport all the while fostering competitiveness of this sector (and probably of German car manufacturers). 

The German Presidency has made digitalisation and innovation its priority for our way out of the crisis, spurring the digital transition along the way. With objectives for “A stronger and more innovative Europe”, Germany aims to tackle the EU’s “digital sovereignty”. This means enhancing Europe’s digital infrastructures as German Minister of Economy Peter Altmaier presented the Gaia-X initiative, which would offer an EU alternative to American cloud data storage, as an important step towards this transformation and sovereignty. Indeed, data policy will be important under the German Presidency, with focus on data access, use, security and the hope to tap into the potential of data for digital services, enabling enhanced circular economy. 

Digitalisation and innovation are also poised to support the competitiveness of EU businesses and industrial sector with special attention for SMEs and key innovative technologies. State-aid legislation should be revised and geared to support innovation and the Green Deal, especially in the case of environmental and energy state aid.  

Finally, and interestingly, this comes with a strong skills and competencies dimension. Digital skills are recognised as needing attention and calling for “a high level of public and private investment”. Besides, data skills are understood as needed for the digital services economy. Further, employment strategies should also contribute to providing the skills necessary for the “future of work”. 

In their objectives for “A fair Europe”, the German Presidency explains how tackling climate and digital transitions will be underpinned by “continuing education and training” for which the EU will have to cooperate more intensively with the Member States. They accurately point to vocational training as an instrument to address the fast-evolving requirements of the labour market and address skills shortages. We can’t help but recall the recommendations of our #Skills4Climate campaign, which has already been calling for these measures since its start. 

Access the full German Presidency programme here.