Coronavirus to weigh on every aspect of Germany’s EU presidency

The Coronavirus crisis broke out as Berlin was about to finalise its programme for the German Presidency, which begins on 1 July. [EPA-EFE/OMER MESSINGER]

The coronavirus crisis comes just as Germany was about to finalise its rotating EU presidency programme, which begins on 1 July. EURACTIV Germany obtained a draft of the programme, which shows how much of a role the virus is set to play during the six month stint in charge.

All five chapters of the programme – dated 17 March – have a placeholder line that reads: “Corona: Overcoming the Crisis or Overcoming the Aftermath of the Crisis”. It suggests that the outbreak will be mainstreamed into other topics and that Germany’s presidency could become a “crisis presidency”.

Der Spiegel quoted a letter sent by German EU ambassador Michael Clauß to the Chancellory, according to which “from now on, the focus will be on the European institutions’ ability to act, crisis management, exit and reconstruction – possibly the maintenance of EU integration per se.”

The diplomat warned that this will be the “yardstick” by which the success of Germany’s presidency will be measured.

Commenting on the letter, a source close to the Bundestag told EURACTIV Germany that the coronavirus will indeed affect the EU presidency agenda as a whole, but that the existing structure will remain.

The 18-page-long document is a compendium of proposals sent by all ministries to the German foreign ministry.

Health in the limelight

Unsurprisingly, the health sector gets top billing with Germany aiming to promote a new European pharmaceutical strategy.

“With regard to the Commission’s project for a new European pharmaceutical strategy, we want to discuss concrete measures within the framework of our Council Presidency (…) on how to prevent supply bottlenecks for pharmaceuticals in the EU, secure supply chains and avoid dependencies in the production of active ingredients,” the document reads.

The draft also stressed that it is “essential” to strengthen the global competitiveness of the pharmaceutical sector and “ensure access to innovative medicines”.

Protecting the innovative capacity of member states – and that of Germany in particular – is now the name of the game.

German weekly Welt am Sonntag reported mid-March that President Donald Trump offered Tübingen-based biotech company CureVac around $1 billion to secure exclusive rights to a potential coronavirus vaccine.

SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp, who owns 80% of CureVac, categorically rejected the offer and excluded securing any exclusive contract with a single country for a corona vaccine.

EU offers support to German vaccine company coveted by Trump

The European Commission said on Monday (16 March) it offered up to €80 million of financial support to German company CureVac to scale up development and production of a coronavirus vaccine in Europe.

According to official data, more than 660 pharmaceutical companies – that include German firms as well as subsidiaries of multinational corporations – are based in Germany.

These companies employ a workforce of around 114,000 mostly located around the cities of Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, Frankfurt (Main) and Munich. The German pharmaceutical sector is dominated by SMEs, with about 400 companies having fewer than 20 members of staff.

In 2016, German companies generated €63.5 billion in export revenue and international markets account for 66% of the sector’s turn-over.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is on the same page, as she told weekly newspaper Die Zeit that she now wants to make healthcare the focus of her five-year-long term in office.

A “white deal” should be added to the “green deal” for climate protection, she said. “The Green Deal is and remains very important, but will be supplemented by a white component, white as the colour of medicine. We are now realising that health is as much a public good as a tolerable climate,” she explained.

“We are protecting the health of the planet and we are protecting the health of human beings.”

Everything digital

Digitalisation will share the limelight too, with data policy, artificial intelligence and a digital single market in the focus.

The openness of the internal market must remain guaranteed, a claim that can be understood in the context of Europe’s debate over the inclusion of Chinese firm Huawei in the 5G roll-out is closely linked to guaranteeing internal market openness. Last February, Germany’s Conservative fraction – the CDU/CSU – decided against banning the company by name.

In order to be able to exist between the “technospheres” of the US and China, Europe has to become a “research-strong” continent with with “own capabilities up to the highest international standards”, the document reads.

But research must follow common European standards. For example, regulations should address the risks of artificial intelligence in order to protect fundamental rights.

Germany also pushes for a common “Code of Conduct” for the use of health data. In general, the Bundesrepublik would like to promote “European Data Governance” in order to write common rules for data use, for example in the areas of agriculture or transport.

In order to make the EU more competitive, the digital internal market is to be further developed. Germany is committed to interoperability, standardisation and open source.

The European platform economy should also become more uniform through liability and security regulations, as should the protection of intellectual property, in order to “ensure fair access rights and promote creativity”. Germany also wants to create a “European Digital Identity” through which citizens can “identify in cyberspace”.

European foreign policy is also to become more digital, through the creation of a “Digital Diplomacy Network” between the foreign ministries of the member states under the leadership of the European External Action Service (EEAS).

At the end of June, Germany is set to take over the reigns from Croatia, which is currently halfway through its first EU presidency since joining the bloc in 2013.A Western-Balkans summit planned for May has been delayed until June and Zagreb is committed to hosting the meeting by the end of its stint, even if it has to be in e-format.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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