Speaking with one European voice vis-á-vis China, keeping an increasingly assertive Russia at distance, taking a tough stance on Turkey in Libya and saving the waning transatlantic relationship – the next six months in which Germany will be at the helm of the European Council will be busy.
In recent weeks, Chancellor Angela Merkel has already come under heavy criticism from her own party and opposition politicians who say she is not taking a tough enough line on China.
While the notion that Europe expects Germany to lead might sound unremarkable, in the world of German foreign policy, it represents a significant shift after decades of hesitancy. The next six months will show whether Berlin is capable of such a change.
But finding common ground among 27 member states on such thorny issues as dealing with Russia and China could become a challenge, especially as foreign policy decisions usually require unanimity. Some say now might be the time to abolish the principle when it comes to the EU’s foreign policy making.
And then there’s defence.
One of the main objectives under Germany’s EU presidency will be the discussion on the bloc’s newly announced “strategic compass”, a tool meant to align member states’ threat perceptions and still divergent strategic cultures, in what is seen as an attempt to move towards an EU Defence Union.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need to re-evaluate military threat perceptions across the EU, defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said while presenting her government’s Council Presidency priorities on security and defence for the next six months.
According to her, member states must link their capabilities “more closely and intelligently”.
However, cuts to the European Commission’s draft defence budget proposal and divergent security priorities across the bloc threaten to make this a ‘Mission Impossible’.