The Brief: Merkel still wears the trousers in Berlin

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Yesterday EU countries agreed to renew the licence for glyphosate, the controversial weed killer suspected of causing cancer and proven to cause headaches for lawmakers.

After a bitter war of words between supporters and opponents of the world’s most commonly used herbicide and several failed attempts at renewal, member states finally agreed on a five-year renewal – just.

The result hinged on a single vote: although 18 countries supported renewal, it only just sneaked over the qualified majority threshold of 65% of the population. Without the support of Germany, by far the EU’s most populous country, it would have fallen short.

But all is not well in Berlin.

In a statement after the vote, Germany’s Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said that at 12:30, two hours before the session began, she had expressly instructed Berlin’s man in the room not to vote for re-approval under any circumstances.

She said he then sent her a text message at 13:07 confirming he had understood her position.

But at some point between the text message and the vote, “the environment ministry’s representative clearly received a different instruction”, Hendricks said.

“Anyone who is interested in building trust between partners cannot behave in such a way.”

At a time when the SPD are cautious about getting back into bed with Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, this is hardly the trust-building gesture the country needed.

So were these the actions of a rogue diplomat or was he following orders from on high? Either way, it spells yet more trouble ahead for Germany’s rocky government coalition talks.

And for a country in the process of trying to form a government to weigh in with the deciding vote on such a politicised issue is uncommon – bad manners even.

Assuming the order came from Angela Merkel’s conservatives, it was a bold move designed to show who wears the trousers in Berlin, after their future was thrown into question when the liberal conservative Free Democrats walked out of coalition talks last week.

Merkel’s only hope of forming a coalition government now lies with two parties opposed to the renewal of glyphosate: the Greens and the Social Democrats. If either one had made this their price for joining the government, it would have undermined the Chancellor’s support base in agriculture and industry and made her look weak in Europe.

Not the iron image she would want to kick off her fourth term in office.

On the other hand, it was a major gamble that could just as easily torpedo the next coalition government before it has a chance to set sail.

The Roundup

On the eve of the EU-Africa Summit, Gianni Pittella in an interview with EURACTIV looks at sustainable investments and agribusiness to leverage the continent out of poverty – “but not at any cost”.

Understanding of EU lawmaking among lobbyists and journalists has declined as the processes themselves have become more complex, to the point of making Brussels “a land of incompetence”, experts said at a seminar in Brussels.

Europe needs a partnership policy with the South and the East as a window of opportunity opens since growth rates rebounded in Europe’s neighbourhood, write Karl Aiginger and Heinz Handler.

Together with French President Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders, Angela Merkel intends to send a signal for much closer cooperation with the south of the continent.

In Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, West Africa’s biggest solar power plant comes to life, with a novel scheme to boost renewables and cut energy dependence on neighbours.

With migration set to dominate the fifth summit between Africa and the European Union, the European Centre for Development Policy Management argues Europe is ‘obsessed’ with a short-term solution.

An incident with mocked-up pictures of opposition MEPs hanging on gallows in the southern Polish city of Katowice sparked outrage.

Eastern European countries and EU hopefuls gathered together with China for the 16+1 summit in Budapest, where the Asian giant promoted its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative.

Greece needs new and functional structures and enhanced farm advisory services in order to give smart farming a boost, an agricultural expert believes.

The European Parliament votes today on a crucial energy saving law that has polarised its main political groups, following months of bitter campaigning. Read about the controversy here.

In a wide-ranging interview on the future of the Alliance, General Allen and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, former Deputy Secretary-General of NATO spoke to EURACTIV as the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative published its final report.

Blockchain technology can be a win-win-win for the fight against censorship, verified traceability of digital artworks, and fair remuneration for its creators, argues Brando Bonifei.

Look out for…

The two-day African Union – EU Summit is starting in Brussels tomorrow.

Views are the author’s

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