German Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to take part in a “mini-summit” with the leaders of the EU institutions in Brussels on Wednesday evening (8 July). It is her first trip abroad since the coronavirus crisis started, testifying to how seriously she is taking her second and last German presidency of the EU Council. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The meeting, to be attended by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Parliament President David Sassoli, and Council President Charles Michel, should focus mostly on the EU’s next seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which EU leaders will debate at a summit on 17-18 July.
Before the meeting, Merkel came to the European Parliament and presented the priorities of the German Presidency, highlighting fundamental rights, cohesion, climate protection, digitalisation and global action.
Similar to her earlier speech in the Bundestag, she spoke of the national confinement measures to limit the coronavirus pandemic as a restriction of the “most elementary basic rights.” As a former citizen of the communist German Democratic Republic, she said the decision on this was “infinitely difficult” for her.
First the work, then linking
However, this was not enough to convince MEPs of Merkel’s commitment to the rule of law during her presidency and European lawmakers repeatedly demanded a clear statement on this subject.
Perhaps because Merkel made it clear a few days ago, during the negotiations on the EU budget and aid funds, that she would not insist on linking EU money with the rule of law.
At a press conference last week, she said that “to link funds to the rule of law (…) you first need funds.” Dacian Cioloș, leader of the centrist RENEW group in the European Parliament, referred directly to this statement, saying he “disagreed” with it.
In her answer to the MEPs, Merkel paraphrased herself: “The rule of law is an absolute priority” for Berlin, she said, but one must “also create the basis for us to work with.” One would need “a willingness to compromise.”
Merkel also dampened expectations on the issue of European resources for the repayment of aid fund loans. One had to “show consideration” for states that had already earmarked funds in their budgets, which would suddenly flow to Brussels in the case of new European taxes.
In general, she warned of “factual hidden tax increases” under the guise of own European resources. However, she does support a digital tax.
Parliament remains ambitious
The negotiations on the MFF and the Recovery Fund are therefore likely to be tough not only for the national EU leaders. Sassoli made it clear before Merkel’s speech that the Parliament did not regard the Commission proposal as a “goal, but as a starting point” to bring about appropriate solutions.
Social Democrat MEP Udo Bullmann also sees the recovery fund as a “great opportunity.” Germany could become the “motor for overcoming the crisis,” he told EURACTIV Germany. He is concerned about whether the money will get where it is needed, and would like to see “clear answers” from Merkel and von der Leyen.
Green Group insists on solidarity and climate protection
Climate protection, which Merkel emphasised as a priority of the German presidency, will play an important role in this context. She once again spoke out in favour of reducing greenhouse gases by 50 to 55% by 2030.
But for the Greens/EFA group, these ambitions do not go far enough. Group spokeswoman Ska Keller reiterated the call for a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 during Wednesday’s plenary. The Greens are also calling for MFF funds to be linked to compliance with climate policy standards.
Keller stressed that the Commission proposal could only be supported if it was ambitious. At the same time, the recovery plan should not “drive up the debt levels of some countries,” and her group colleague Sven Giegold demanded that the “principle of solidarity-based investment […] should become the lasting economic principle of Europe.”
Now, when Merkel, Sassoli, Michel and von der Leyen meet on Wednesday evening to hold initial talks on the MFF, there will be plenty to talk about.