Merkel and von der Leyen: Two long-time companions guiding Europe

The two are not only party colleagues from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), but also long-time companions. Merkel brought Von der Leyen into her first government cabinet in 2005, to serve and Family and Women's Affairs Minister. EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS / POOL [EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS / POOL]

They have ruled Germany together for 15 years. Now they are at Europe’s helm. With the start of the German EU Presidency, Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have, together, forged plans to navigate Europe out of crisis, EURACTIV Germany reports.

Von der Leyen and Merkel discussed by video call on Thursday (2 July) how they can use the German Presidency to get Europe through the crisis.

During the press conference that followed, their friendship was apparent as they addressed each other by their first names and laughed together. Von der Leyen mentioned the “joy and cordiality” between them.

German EU Presidency: Berlin to lead on EU economic policy

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 Germany’s commitment towards non-EU countries and confirming the focus on the digital and green economy. EURACTIV Germany reports.

A shared past

The two are not only party colleagues from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Merkel brought von der Leyen into her first government cabinet in 2005, to serve as Family and Women’s Affairs Minister.

Until she moved to Brussels, von der Leyen was a permanent member of Merkel’s cabinet, serving as labour minister, and then as defence minister, making her the last ‘survivor’ of Merkel’s first cabinet.

However, during these 15 years, their relationship was not always so harmonious. For instance, von der Leyen had two strong chances of becoming Germany’s first female president in 2004 and 2010 but was snubbed both times as Merkel chose a different candidate.

It must have been especially painful in 2010, when the media talked about von der Leyen as a favoured candidate.

But later, when Merkel was criticised over her refugee policy, the defence minister stood behind the leader. When the now-European Commission President was caught in the crossfire in 2017 because of her dealings with right-wing extremists, Merkel assured her of “all the support she needs”.

A migration pact in the spirit of the German government?

For the first time since 2015, the number of asylum applications filed in the EU rose last year compared to the previous year. The German EU Council Presidency is pressing for reforms to the system, but the Commission’s proposals are still some way off. EURACTIV Germany reports.

On China: ‘Very critical’ of human rights

In terms of content, the press conference repeatedly dealt with China and the European reaction to the security law in Hong Kong. The Commission President described relations in some areas as “very complex”, saying that China was both an “important partner” and a “systemic rival”.

They emphasised that they wanted to talk to Beijing not only about economic relations but also about human rights, of which Europe was “very critical”. According to Merkel, it was also necessary to discuss whether and how the principle of “one country, two systems” could still exist with this security law.

Von der Leyen did not address the question of possible sanctions but said that China must have an interest in functioning trade relations. If Europe showed a united and self-confident stance, she added, this would have a “long-term effect in China”.

When it comes to a post-Brexit trade agreement, a pressing matter for the German EU Presidency, Merkel said that work was already “at full speed”. However, she said that the agreement would not come at any price.

“We also have to prepare for another case”, code for a ‘no deal’ scenario, said Merkel, adding that this would be carried out together with the Commission.

Merkel and Macron show unity ahead of all-important EU summit

In a show of unity, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met on Monday (29 June) and reaffirmed their commitment to the EU Recovery Fund, voicing hope that EU leaders would overcome their current differences. EURACTIV Germany reports.

MFF: Agreement to be reached in the summer

With a view to the upcoming EU summit of heads of state and government scheduled for 17-18 July in Brussels which will focus on the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework (MFF), Merkel said she was heading there with the aim of “reaching an agreement”.

Tough negotiations are expected, particularly with the so-called ‘Frugal Four’ – Austria, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands – still rejecting the idea of granting aid in the form of subsidies.

While Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte recently emphasised this to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, he also, for the first time, gave signals that he was open to compromise.

Now Merkel has increased the pressure on the ‘Frugal Four’ by refusing to postpone negotiations. She said she could think of no other option “than to reach an agreement in the summer”.

Germany’s ‘crisis’ EU Presidency explained

Germany takes over the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the European Union on 1 July. This responsibility comes at a time when the EU is facing unprecedented challenges and expectations of Germany’s leadership and diplomatic skills are higher than ever.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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