The most pro-European German government ever? – European integration

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The new German federal government took office on 8 December. After the Merkel era, this is a turning point not only for Germany, but also for the European Union. Brussels is waiting for new impulses from its largest member state.

The new government brings together the three parties which had most defended the development of the EU in their electoral manifestos. the SPD, for example, wants to “make the EU the most modern democracy in the world” and create a “sovereign Europe in the world”. The liberal PDF advocates a “constitutional convention” which would lay “the foundations of a federal and decentralized European federal state”. And the Green vegetables have declared a “European Federal Republic with a European Constitution” as their “guiding star”.

Therefore, ambitious formulations on European policy in the three parties are not lacking. coalition agreement. The most visible is undoubtedly the requirement that the Conference on the future of Europe, which will continue until May 2022, should “result in a constitutional convention and lead to the further development [of the EU] into a European federal state. After many years in which the German government largely shunned European visions, this clear statement is a refreshing change that has generated great enthusiasm, especially among federalists.

However, some reactions were also skeptical. After all, the last grand coalition in 2018 also spoke quite prominently of a “new start for Europe” and even placed it at the very beginning of the coalition agreement – but then followed with little action. , at least until the historic decision of the recovery fund in the summer of 2020. Can we really believe that the traffic light coalition will succeed in transforming the EU into a federal state within four years? Well, the paper does not blush.

Overseas reactions

Either way, the strong words of the coalition agreement are a symbolic fanfare, which has also been heard in other EU member states. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán immediately wrote a test throwing down the gauntlet to the new federal government, while his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki called a federal Europe ‘dangerous’bureaucratic centralism‘.

When it comes to institutional reform, the traffic light coalition is completely on a federalist path.

On the other hand, Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the liberal group in the European Parliament welcomed Germany’s return to a leading role in Europe. And in France, according to a survey, 58 percent of the population regard the new coalition’s position on Europe as a “good thing” – with strong approval on all sides except the far right.

In any case, the expectations of the new federal government are high. Even if the European federal state does not materialize anytime soon, with this slogan it sets a benchmark against which it will have to measure its concrete European policy. But what exactly does the coalition agreement provide?

Details of the reform

When it comes to institutional reform, the traffic light coalition is completely on a federalist path. Among other things, it aims for a stronger European Parliament, a uniform European electoral law with transnational lists and lead candidates, and an extension of majority voting in the Council. Moreover, many lines of the coalition agreement are devoted to the defense of the rule of law – which is probably the main reason for the strong reactions from Budapest and Warsaw.

Economic, fiscal and social policy plans seem less ambitious, but here too the new coalition is ready for reform and open to deeper integration. A new edition of the recovery fund in future crises is not promised, but not expressly excluded either. In terms of freedom of movement, the coalition wants to restore “the integrity of the Schengen area” and make “more restrictive” use of derogations (which allow the temporary reintroduction of border controls). In terms of asylum policy, there should be a “fair distribution” when welcoming refugees and a “European-led rescue at sea in the Mediterranean”.

Unsurprisingly, all coalition parties obtained relevant ministerial portfolios.

The common foreign and security policy also plays a major role in the coalition agreement. There is repeated talk of “EU strategic sovereignty” – a slogan that French President Emmanuel Macron uses time and time again and which the coalition agreement defines as “our own ability to act in a global context”, as well as reduced dependence in areas such as “energy supply, health, imports of raw materials and digital technology”. To this end, foreign policy decisions in the Council should in future be taken by qualified majority, the European External Action Service should be strengthened and the High Representative should act as a “real” Minister for EU foreign affairs”” – whatever the latter may mean.

As is the case with European politics, the traffic light coalition will not be able to achieve most of these goals alone, but only through compromises with other member states. This raises the question of how much political capital he is willing to invest in which project. Only practice will tell the answer to this, and it is quite possible that not all parties in the coalition will always set the same priorities here.

The staff

Not least for this reason, the question of who should take responsibility for German European policy in the coming years is also important. Unsurprisingly, all coalition parties obtained relevant ministerial portfolios. While the SPD controls the Chancellery with Olaf Scholz, the ministries responsible for European coordination – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Economic Affairs – are in the hands of the Greens Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck. In turn, Christian Lindner of the FDP got his hands on the equally influential Ministry of Finance.

There has never been a tricolor coalition at the federal level in Germany.

But the second row is also interesting for the profile of the government. With Jörg Kukies as European Policy Adviser in the Chancellery, State Secretary for European Policy Carsten Pillath in the Ministry of Finance and his counterpart Sven Giegold in the Ministry of Economics, the Federal Government has acquired solid policy expertise financial. Another state secretary in the economy ministry will be Franziska Brantner, the Greens’ former European policy spokesperson. The new Minister of State for Europe at the Foreign Office, Anna Lührmann, has a background in democracy promotion – a sign of the importance the rule of law should play in the future for German European policy.

The chairmanship of the European Affairs Committee of the Bundestag also goes to the Greens and will be taken over by their former parliamentary group leader Anton Hofreiter. And finally, according to the coalition agreement, the Greens must also propose the next German member of the Commission, at least “unless Germany provides the President of the Commission”. The latter could happen if Ursula von der Leyen wins a second term as the head of the European People’s Party list in the 2024 European elections. The new German government would obviously not object.

It remains to be seen how smoothly the traffic light team will work over the next four years. There has never been a tricolor coalition at the federal level in Germany; and when, shortly before the new government took office, the leader of the SPD parliamentary group, Rolf Mützenich, declared that German foreign policy would be “steered in particular by the Chancellery”, this did not please the Greens too much .

But more European political debate – including public debate – need not be harmful. In any case, the establishment of the new government gives reason to be convinced that the presence of Germany in European politics and the presence of European politics in Germany should increase in the years to come.

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