Trio-presidency programme: A relay with a German sprint

The Foreign Ministers of the "GPS Trio": Portugal's Augusto Santos Silva, Germany's Heiko Maas and Slovenia's Miro Cerar. This meeting on 22 May 2019 marked the start of the process, the results of which were presented on Tuesday (16 June). [EPA-EFE | Clemens Bilan]

Germany, Portugal and Slovenia presented their joint EU presidency programme for the next 18 months on Tuesday (16 June), seeking to focus primarily on social recovery in the wake of the pandemic. Despite expectations, the 31 pages are otherwise filled with little substance. EURACTIV Germany reports.

One week before Germany’s Federal Cabinet is set to adopt the final programme for its six-month EU Council Presidency, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia – the three successive presidency holders – presented the broader programme at the EU Council.

“The GPS trio will set the right course,” Portugal’s EU Secretary of State for European Affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, told the Council meeting, referring to the first letters of the three countries.

This principle of three successive presidencies was first introduced in 2007 to ensure a smooth transition between different EU countries that chair the Council.

“What we’ll do in the next six months is a sprint. But what we need is a relay race,” German State Minister for Europe Michael Roth (SPD) said in a press statement.

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Three mammoth tasks right at the start

This relay race, however, will be severely restricted by the pandemic, as German EU ambassador Michael Clauß warned in a recent incendiary letter, where he wrote that the success of the German presidency would “be measured by its crisis management”.

“I expect long and intensive meetings of this Council,” Roth said at Tuesday’s meeting of EU ministers.

Germany in particular is facing major challenges. Right at the start of its presidency, the country will have to help the member states reach agreement on the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund. This is a difficult task because the fronts are hardened over the question of how much is to be given as loans or free grants.

There are also two issues that need to be resolved before 2021: the negotiations on the  EU’s seven-year budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), as well as on Brexit, where the aim is to seek a fair and “comprehensive partnership”, as the programme vaguely states.

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Focus on the “human dimension”

The three countries also have a long-term vision. According to Portuguese Zacarias, there is a need to “pay special attention to the social dimension of the crisis”. According to the programme, the main objective is a “robust recovery of the European economy,” which “takes into account the significant social impact and human dimensions.”

In the social realm, the trio is striving for “upward convergence in the EU.” They want to address differences in national minimum wages, unemployment regulations and employment and income protection in times of crisis.

The European Green Deal is also emphasised several times. Environmental organisations fear that it could be undermined by the revitalisation of the economy.

However, the programme shows no surprises in climate policy. The intention is to push ahead with the climate protection law planned for winter. The initiatives on resource efficiency, recycling and waste management, an agenda for the world’s oceans and the EU forestry strategy planned for 2021 are also to be tackled over the next year and a half.

Germany, in particular, would also like to push key technologies such as hydrogen and joint offshore wind farms in order to decarbonise its heavy industry. This point is likely to be of less interest to Portugal, which already meets its energy needs almost exclusively from renewable sources.

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Vague on digitalisation and China

In the area of digitalisation, the aim is to strengthen European sovereignty, and in doing so, the three countries are relying on the Commission’s proposals.

Specifically, they will promote the planned creation of a European data ecosystem and create a “binding minimum level of IT security for devices.” The draft praises artificial intelligence as a “key technology.” The aim is also to achieve “fair taxation in an increasingly digitalised economy.”

Although Chancellor Angela Merkel had identified relations with China as one of the top priorities of the German EU Presidency, the draft does not contain any details on this. As the EU-China summit planned for September in Leipzig has been cancelled, a meeting of EU and Chinese heads of state and government would be considered.

The programme is a little more courageous on the subject of trade. The three countries want to conclude trade agreements with Mercosur and Mexico and “make every effort” to conclude an “ambitious and balanced Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” with China.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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