Interview – Bernd Hüttemann, European Movement, on the German elections

In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, Secretary General of the European Movement Germany Bernd Hüttemann discusses the European dimension of the German elections and possible coalitions.

How significant a role have EU issues played in the election campaigns?

They have hardly played any role at all. In terms of European politics the parties have similar approaches and there are few, if any, real differences. The only exception is the accession of Turkey. This is also the only EU issue that has sparked more general public debate. 

On the whole, EU politics continues to be largely a matter of the different ministries. Rather than being treated as a general issue, the approach to EU issues is first of all determined by them. Therefore, the most important task for the future will be the coordination of the work done by the different ministries and units. 

The same applies to the public and civil society. There is little general awareness of, and interest in, Europe among the citizens. And civil society organisation, business associations etc. predominantly concentrate on particular issues, defending their own interests. Therefore, it is important that there are organisations, which bring them together and take on a coordinating function and, more importantly, that communicate the EU to the citizens [‘Öffentlichkeitsarbeit’] and contribute to the general education of citizens in EU affairs [‘Bildungsarbeit’]. 

In which way would a grand coalition impact on EU politics? 

In terms of EU politics, a grand coalition would hardly make a big difference. It would probably lead to the creation of a ministry for EU affairs. On the one hand, this would express that the importance of EU policies is finally being recognised. On the other hand, there would be the risk that EU politics is separated from other areas. The German constitution stipulates that ministries work relatively independently from one another. Nonetheless, it would probably be tied closely to the office of the chancellor and the foreign ministry, although most EU issues are a matter of internal affairs. If closely tied to other ministries, the danger would be that internal affairs would leave EU politics in its shadow.

Who, in your view, would head a grand coalition? 

As things currently stand, this is impossible to answer. 

How will the election result influence progress on the negotiations on the ‘financial perspective’ and the EU Constitution? 

Currently, there is a state of total perplexity. The election results will prolong the period of reflection that has been started and other problems will dominate the agenda. There are few people who still believe in progress on these dossiers. All the political parties agree that Germany should pay less. But none of the parties actually put heart and soul into any of these issues, particularly, as regards the Constitution. Most likely, an agreement on the financial framework will only be found at the very last minute. 

Do you think a ‘Jamaica coalition’ [black/yellow/green] would make any difference in terms of EU policies? 

What I mentioned earlier also applies to a coalition between the Conservatives, the Liberals and the Greens. EU matters would not be problematic, especially because EU politics always offers parties the opportunity to present themselves as “the good guys”, at least to the outside. It seems possible, though not likely, that one of the small parties – possibly the Greens – would seek to make its mark on EU issues, presenting itself as a European-minded party, and the other – the Liberals – concentrating on foreign affairs. But this is pure speculation. Both small parties are very positive towards the constitutional text, but it is far from clear how pushy they would actually be. 

In fact, many people in civil society have long been waiting for a ‘rapprochement’ between the Christian Democrats and the Greens and have no trouble imagining such a coalition. As regards to many political issues, they are not as far apart as generally thought. Admittedly, this would require an internal process to overcome what are currently ideologically entrenched mindsets. But if it doesn’t happen this time, the ‘breach in the dyke’ will happen in the next elections. 

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