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24th Oct 2020

Berlin risks being 'culprit' for stalling EU, warns Green MEP

  • 'An appeal to European responsibilities should come with an agenda,' Reinhard Buetikofer said. (Photo: European Parliament)

German politicians should think more about the consequences for Europe resulting from the current political deadlock in Berlin, Green MEP Reinhard Buetikofer has warned.

"I'm not sure the European consequences of what we do in Berlin are really on the top of the agenda for everybody," Buetikofer - who participated in the failed coalition talks in Germany - said on Thursday (23 November).

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  • 'Macron has been waiting for half a year' to hear about Germany's proposal on the EU's future (Photo: elysee.fr)

"I hope that there will be a lot of phone calls from Brussels to Berlin, and from other capitals too to impress that on people," he added.

Buetikofer was one of 14 senior Green politicians who negotiated with the Christian Democrat Union (CDU), the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the liberal Free Democrats Party (FDP), in their attempt to form a so-called 'Jamaica' coalition.

The Green negotiator gave a group of journalists in Brussels an insider's view of what he called an "extraordinary experiment".

Talks failed last Sunday, postponing prospects for the next government and raising concerns about Germany's pivotal role in the EU.

Buetikofer noted that many in Europe are losing their belief in chancellor Angela Merkel's "capacity to always find a solution" and that this loss of trust would be a "major defeat" for Germany.

"It's hard for me to assess that, but maybe that's true," he said.

The MEP pointed out that the EU has "a very narrow window of opportunity" to take decisions over its future and that a German paralysis would jeopardise the effort.

He added that "Macron has been waiting for half a year", whilst European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave his ideas in September about how the EU could be reformed.

He insisted that before the end of next year, "either we have found agreement, not just between Paris and Berlin, but between all the capitals and the Commission, on how to move forward, or there won't be any progress."

"Would we really want to be the culprits that prevent that from happening?" he asked.


EU 'not a battlefield'

As the talks' failure seems to leave few options other than a minority government or new elections, Buetikofer however expressed scepticism over the idea of a "pact for Europe" to form or support a new government.

"That would not really be stable," he said.

He insisted that "an appeal to European responsibilities should come with an agenda."

"It should be a new direction, not a standstill under a different name or repetition of 'Schaeuble-plus' or 'Schaeuble-minus'," he added, referring to the strict economic policies of former finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

He said that the EU was "not a major battlefield for the CDU", and that before talks failed, the four parties had reached common positions on several issues.

They had close positions on the need to fight money laundering and tax evasion, or to have an "active integration policy" for Western Balkan countries.

"In very general terms", according to Buetikofer, the four parties were also ready to call for a strengthening of the "parliamentarisation and democratisation of the EU" in order to strengthen the rule of law mechanism.

They had also agreed to call for an EU budget where "doing the job was the criteria for how much money we would need, not the other way round."

Splits on EMU

"There was some good stuff in there," Buetikofer said. But "major disagreement" remained on economic issues, and the EU economic and monetary union (EMU).

"It was completely unsatisfactory," the negotiator said. "That was a big defeat."

He explained that there was no common policy on the banking union, on the future of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) - the eurozone emergency fund - or on the need for a facility to weather asymmetric economic shocks.

Brexit played no role

The parties were closer on the need to maintain the European Investment Bank's (EIB) investment capacity, he said. But "that was only possible because some people around the table did not understand that that implied putting more money into the EIB because the Brits are withdrawing their money," Buetikofer noted.

He also said that "Brexit didn't play a role at all" in the negotiations because "everybody agreed on the stance."

He said that is was "ludicrous" to think the UK could take advantage of the situation in Germany in its negotiations with the EU.

The Green politician put the blame of the talks' failure on the liberals.

At one point, he said, the liberals came with a German translation of the agreement reached by Mark Rutte, the liberal Dutch prime minister, to form a coalition with the Christian Democrats, liberals and an evangelical party.

"They asked us to copy-paste some of that language into our papers," Buetikofer said.

The liberals "fled from the negotiating table because they were "afraid to wake up and find themselves in government," he said.

Liberals lacked 'substance'

He noted that the FDP, under its 38-year old leader Christian Lindner, wanted to "impersonate the ambitions of the younger generations to make things change," but that "on substance they were inferior" to other parties.

After the four parties agreed on issues such as the digitalisation of the economy, data protection, the fight against climate change, or education and research, the FDP was left only with an "old" image of tax cuts party, Buetikofer said.

"Their transformative image didn't materialise," he insisted.

The Green politician noted in contrast that the CSU "was tough but [that] its leadership was willing to strike a deal."

He said that depicting chancellor Angela Merkel as a "moderator" in the negotiations "vastly underestimates what she did."

He explained that Merkel used her well-known method of 'framing the conversations, framing the format".

"It's one of her best qualities to play the moderator and to direct the moderation," he said, noting that she used the method she's applied successful for 12 years national and at EU level

But "she came to the end of it", he said. "It didn't work anymore."

'You haven't seen it all yet'

As political consultations continue in Berlin, led by president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Buetikofer said that a minority government - either between the CDU-CSU and the Greens, or between the CDU/CSU and the Social-Democratic Party (SDP) - was "not very probable".

He also said that the possibility of a coalition between the CDU/CSU, the SPD and the Greens, was "close to zero".

He noted however that the option, dubbed the 'Kenya coalition' because of the black-red-green colours of the parties, "has friends here in Brussels".

Another possibility would be a transitional government that would prepare new elections which would take place before April.

But the risk, the MEP said, is that the vote could be "very inconclusive", leading to more delay in having a stable government that could fully participate in EU's discussion.


And Merkel?

"She's taking this in a sporting way," he noted. "She saying: 'You haven't seen it all yet'."

Analysis

EU 'cannot afford' lengthy German deadlock

Angela Merkel's failure to form a coalition government has raised concerns in Europe that the EU's most powerful country will send the block into paralysis.

European Liberals pin hopes on Macron

The French president "will be part of our family", Alde president Van Baalen said at the party congress. But some leaders, like Dutch PM Mark Rutte, seem to be less enthusiastic.

EU glyphosate vote hits German coalition

Chancellor Merkel disowned her agriculture minister over his decision to back a renewal of the weedkiller's licence as the issue pits Social Democrats against Christian Democrats ahead of coalition talks.

Schinas spars with MEPs over migration job title

A number of MEPs pressed Margaritis Schinas to drop the "Protecting the European Way of Life" title of his portfolio, which deals with migration. But Schinas refused, claiming it needs protecting from terrorists and populists. He failed to convince.

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