As Germany took over the EU Council Presidency on Wednesday (1 July), Economy Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU) presented plans for reorienting the bloc’s economic policy, signalling Berlin’s commitment towards non-EU countries and confirming its focus on the digital and green economy. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Altmaier told a press conference on Wednesday that economic policy would be “a central focus” of Germany’s six-month EU Presidency. Altmaier’s ministry will chair five Council formations: Trade, Energy, Digitalisation, Cohesion and Competition.
Germany’s economy minister also wants to secure the European Green Deal from an economic perspective, reduce EU bureaucracy and transform the EU into a “digital powerhouse”.
Altmaier also outlined the EU’s increased power to shape international trade policy.
What is needed, according to the minister, is a “strongly reformed World Trade Organisation and ambitious free trade and investment protection agreements”. The EU must be able to “effectively defend itself against unfair trade practices and protectionism,” he added.
Hydrogen in the spotlight
The German minister devoted a large part of his speech to the topic of climate and energy and in particular to “green hydrogen”. Altmaier explained that the aim was not only to preserve the German and European industrial sector but also to make it more resilient. To achieve this, Germany would be relying on hydrogen.
“The European Commission has presented its hydrogen strategy, we presented ours three weeks ago. Now it is a matter of how to interlock the two,” he stressed.
France, in particular, wants to support Germany: Altmaier also announced that Berlin plans to present a Franco-German pilot project before the summer break.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government intends to use the EU Council presidency to push further for the creation of markets and infrastructure necessary for hydrogen within the EU. Its presidency programme states that it wants to win “partners for green energy imports”.
The programme is a logical continuation of the economic stimulus plan presented in early June and the new hydrogen strategy unveiled the following week.
The economic development plan presented in Berlin on 3 June provides for almost €30 billion of the planned €130 billion for the energy sector, climate policy and mobility, of which €7 billion is to be spent on hydrogen technologies.
New 2030 climate target
Altmaier’s presentation of the programme builds on the statement Merkel made last Monday, on the occasion of French President Emmanuel Macron’s first visit to Germany since the coronavirus pandemic broke out.
Merkel said that one of Germany’s priorities would be to reach a consensus among the 27 EU member states to increase the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The European Union’s official goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 1990. However, the member states have set themselves the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, which should force them to increase their climate ambitions for the next ten years.
In this respect, the European Commission proposes to reduce emissions by 50-55% by 2030, and an “impact assessment” on this issue is due to be published in September.
However, the decisive negotiations will also take place in the EU Council – under the German presidency – as the new target for 2030 is to be anchored in the “EU Climate Change Law”, presented by the EU executive last March.
‘One in, one out’ at EU level
Altmaier, however, was optimistic about the future when it came to digitisation. Not only did he want to “expand Europe’s digital sovereignty”, but he also wanted to catapult the continent to the “world’s top in digitisation”.
Achieving that goal, according to the minister, would also be possible thanks to the prestigious project GAIA X, the European cloud alternative to US providers such as Google or Amazon. GAIA X’s first use cases are to be presented in the second half of the year.
Altmaier also wants to “get serious” about reducing bureaucracy and announced that the German “one in, one out” principle would be exported to the EU. This means that new regulation will only be introduced if an old regulation is removed in return. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had already emphasised a similar issue in her work programme.
Meanwhile, the most important international EU economic topic will probably be an investment agreement with China. While the Commission continues to lead the negotiations, Altmaier announced that Germany would “flank” the process.
Altmeier himself has been in active contact with China’s industry minister and Merkel has also been discussing the matter with China’s leadership.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]