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Can Germany make the EU strong again?

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A lecture on the German EU presidency in times of COVID-19, held at the university of Torino in October 2020

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Can Germany make the EU strong again?

  1. 1. Eric BONSE Senior EU correspondent, based in Brussels (since 2004) Homepage ericbonse.eu EU Watchblog lostineu.eu Can Germany make the EU strong again? A lecture on the German EU presidency in times of COVID-19 Abstract: - General reflection of the German role in the EU - Presentation of the German presidency and its priorities - Assessment after four months of German leadership - Some remarks on the COVID-19 crisis - The current debate in Germany (domestic issues) Conclusion and debate
  2. 2. 1 General reflection of the German role in the EU Biggest and most powerful EU member Most experienced and respected head of government (Merkel) Designed the current EU treaty (with Berlin declaration leading to the Lisbon Treaty) Emboldened by good performance in the „first wave“ of the COVID-19 crisis Special relationship with UK and France But: „Reluctant hegemon“, who does not really want to lead (and to pay) Long-time „free-rider“ with regards to open markets, defense, migration Brexit was a major setback for Germany, which relied on London until 2016 The Trump election was an even harder blow - Germany as scapegoat Reluctance to reform the economy and the EU - Status quo was good for Germany
  3. 3. 2 Presentation of the German presidency and its priorities Slogan: Make EU strong again (Gemeinsam. Europa wieder stark machen) - against the background of severe EU crisis in spring and the split with Italy and France In the shadow of COVID-19 („Corona presidency“) Absolute priority was to safeguard Single Market and free movement of goods (not so much Schengen and free movement of people / travel) Second priority was a China summit in Leipzig (cancelled du to COVID-19) Third priority was to achieve a „managed Brexit“ with a EU-friendly free trade deal
  4. 4. 3 Assessment after four months of German leadership First goal achieved - with „historical“ summit in July Second goal missed - also due to rising tensions with China Third goal still work in progress, „no deal“ more likely than comprehensive free trade agreement Rising tensions in foreign policy - Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, France, Armenia Defeat on COVID-19 - health issues, 1st meeting only tonight (after 4 months)
  5. 5. 4 Some remarks on the COVID-19 crisis Germany fared better with less restrictions than Italy or France Now the is situation is different, even „safe“ regions are in trouble Merkel cannot really lead, as health is a regional competence On the EU level she could have done something, but she did not Now Germany will enter into a „lockdown light“ for four weeks
  6. 6. 5 The current debate in Germany (domestic issues) Dissatisfaction with the handling of the crisis was growing in summer Now, there seems to be a broader political consensus, no region put a veto - but the consensus among the scientific community is gone Serious questions on legal order and democratic legitimacy arise Merkel is on the defensive, as she promised not to allow a new lockdown to happen The crisis hits the CDU, too, congress cancelled and an open leadership crisis
  7. 7. CONCLUSION Germany has been getting stronger, but it did not share or „project“ its newly gained power in the health sector Europe is now (autumn 2020) falling behind China and the US Germany did not (yet) deliver on its promise to make EU stronger and more united Only tangible result - the recovery fund - still hanging in the balance, delays inevitable Now it’s about unity in a very dangerous situation

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