After talks between Germany’s four main political parties collapsed, the acting government’s capacity to participate in EU-level decisions is limited. But important progress still needs to be made to pursue the reform process within the EU. EURACTIV Germany reports.
For Europe, Angela Merkel (CDU) is a constant factor in German politics. In Germany, she is, according to the result of the general election, the acting chancellor, chairing an acting federal government.
That will last until a minority government is formed, or the Social Democrats suddenly decide to enter a grand coalition despite earlier refusals, or new elections take place. In the current heated debate, it is unclear what will happen.
During this transitional phase, the decisions made by the Bundestag have already proved that Germany is governable as far as domestic policy is concerned. In terms of European policy, however, Merkel’s influence can be seen as constrained by the limitations of an acting federal government.
An acting government has the same powers as a ‘regular’ government. However, it is not supposed to make far-reaching decisions that would bind the next federal government. This concerns not only the adoption of draft laws but also financial decisions.
Franco-German tandem under pressure
If French President Emmanuel Macron had previously feared a blockade of his reform plans by a German governing coalition with the FDP, he now faces a thwarted chancellor, who for the time being has to hold back on making any decisions that would extend to EU level.
This concerns not only Macron’s plans for the eurozone but also his aim to transform the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund.
In September, Merkel sided with Macron after his speech on the future of Europe and demanded energetic reforms.
“I am firmly convinced that Europe must not stand still,” Merkel said at that time. Now she is being forced into a standby mode by the government crisis in Berlin, which has postponed the promise that Germany will head the necessary reform process of the EU, together with France.
Macron is not the only one pressed for time.
Foreign assignments within the NATO framework, issues of immigration and migration, and expiring EU sanctions against Russia at the end of January are just a few of the decisions Merkel has to face with the federal government on ice.
Brexit decision ahead
Theresa May also needs progress in the Brexit negotiations with the remaining 27 EU member states, for the sake of her own government’s stability.
At the next summit in Brussels in mid-December, she is keen to open the next phase of negotiations dealing with the transition period and the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU.
While the decision on this lies with Michel Barnier, the Brexit negotiator in Brussels, a couple of British parliamentarians opposed to this could try to exploit Merkel’s current political weakness.
The Times already ran a headline that May has been advised to “exploit Merkel’s crisis to reduce the Brexit bill”.
Just a few days ago, when heads of state and government gathered at the EU Social Summit in Gothenburg and committed themselves to common social standards such as unemployment assistance and fair wages, Merkel was absent due to the ongoing coalition talks.
During the last vote on the authorisation renewal for glyphosate, Germany abstained. The country did likewise on Monday (20 November), when there was a vote on a new regulation on bio-economy.
Europe needs a German government with enough room for manoeuvre, without legal and time limits, before taking decisions for the European agenda, which have to be made in time for the upcoming European elections.