Germany’s new government plans to urge Brussels to be stricter on the rule of law, supports changes to EU treaties and may simply be open to changing EU debt rules.
These are just a few of the messages the next ruling coalition in Germany sent to Europe on Wednesday as it presented a deal that paves the way for a center-left government to take over under leadership. of the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz.
The deal means that the leadership of the EU’s largest economy will soon be leaving the hands of center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has decided to step down after 16 years in office. And it has raised questions about the extent to which Germany will change its approach to core European issues.
The coalition treaty emerged after weeks of talks between the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Pro-Business Democrats (FDP) – a trio that have never ruled Germany before. In the agreement, the parties stressed that Germany has a “special responsibility” to serve Europe. But their version of service to Europe can sometimes differ from that of Merkel, who has often taken a centrist and non-confrontational approach to the issues dividing the EU.
Significantly, the coalition deal called on Brussels to take a tougher stance in its rule of law battles with countries like Poland and Hungary. The European Commission has long expressed frustration with the two countries over declining democratic standards, but has yet to officially use some of its more punitive powers, as a tool that would allow it to withhold some funds from its members due to the rule of law. concerns.
“We urge the European Commission (…) to use the existing instruments of the rule of law in a more coherent and timely manner”, indicates the text. He adds that Berlin will only approve the payment of EU pandemic stimulus funds to these countries “only if preconditions such as an independent judiciary are met.”
When it comes to EU debt rules, the Coalition Treaty balances the more hawkish fiscal views of the FDP with the more reform-oriented approach of the other parties. EU rules on debt and deficits were temporarily relaxed during the pandemic to help stabilize the economy.
On the one hand, the document points out that the EU’s debt rule “has proven its flexibility” – an argument often used by those who say there is no need to raise debt ceilings. But it also says fiscal rules can be “developed further” to ensure growth, preserve debt sustainability and encourage green investments.
The text also envisages the current EU recovery fund in the event of a pandemic as “an instrument limited in time and in amount”, suggesting a rejection of the permanent pooling of debt risks in Europe.
The agreement revolves around a delicate subject: the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. Von der Leyen is from the future German opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union, which raises the question of whether the new government would appoint her for a second term.
The text stipulates that the Greens will have the right to appoint Germany’s next European Commissioner, the role occupied by von der Leyen when she is also the president of the European executive. But he also adds an enigmatic warning: “as long as the President of the Commission is not from Germany”.
It also includes a call for a common European electoral law, which would include transnational candidate lists, with the top candidate being elected president of the European Commission. In theory, von der Leyen could win a second term if this system were widely accepted. But this model has faced fierce resistance from some EU governments and parties in the past.
More broadly, the three parties have set themselves the very ambitious objective of developing the EU treaties. The agreement states that the ongoing Conference on the Future of Europe – a discussion forum for possible EU reforms – “should lead to a constitutional convention and the further development of a federal European state” . This position will not be well received in other EU capitals like Warsaw or Budapest, which would likely veto such measures.
In matters of foreign and defense policy, the treaty calls for a reform of the EU’s foreign policy division, the European External Action Service. And it pushes the EU to give up demanding unanimity on all foreign policy measures – an obstacle the bloc has struggled to overcome on fundamental issues such as the release of statements about China’s crackdown in Hong Kong.
He suggests that the bloc move to qualified majority voting on foreign policy, but with a mechanism that would allow smaller member countries to “participate appropriately.” These countries have resisted moving away from unanimous decisions because they fear their vital interests will be overridden by larger states.
It also calls for “increased cooperation between the national armies of EU members wishing to integrate, in particular in training, capabilities, operations and equipment” – a position which touches on the rekindled debate on how the EU can strengthen its own military capabilities. What is missing, however, is a commitment to NATO’s goal of increasing defense spending to 2% of economic output.
As for China, the growing foreign policy challenge of the day, the parties urge that any relationship be based on “partnership, competition and rivalry of systems.” Notably, however, the parties agree that an EU investment deal with China – proposed at Merkel’s request – cannot be ratified at this stage. The parties also pledge to “clearly address human rights violations in China, especially Xinjiang.”
On migration, the treaty advocates “a fundamental reform of the European asylum system” and stresses, alluding to the Belarusian border crisis, that “the EU and Germany must not be open to blackmail”. For years, EU members have failed to agree on a common approach to the treatment of asylum seekers.
If the United Kingdom had the slightest hope that Germany’s position on the post-Brexit talks could change with the new coalition, these are crushed by the text: it underlines Berlin’s commitment “in favor of a common European policy “towards the United Kingdom and he insists on the need for” full respect for the agreements adopted “, notably the Northern Ireland Protocol, which governs the contentious question of trade between Great Britain and the United Kingdom. North Ireland.
Any non-compliance by the British side, the text says, must lead to “the consistent application of all agreed measures and countermeasures”.
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