Tuesday

2nd Jun 2020

German EU presidency lumbered with massive to-do list

  • There will be about 3-4 meetings every day, with 400 of them at the political level (Photo: European Commission)

When large countries take over the six-month presidency of the European Union they generate a huge level of expectation, although past experience shows that they are not always the most effective presidencies.

It is no different this time round with Germany, due to take over the political running of the bloc on 1 January.

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If it manages to check off all the issues on its to-do list, Berlin will, among other things, salvage the EU constitution, get an EU energy package agreed and oversee a new EU policy towards the ex-Soviet east.

This will be on top of the all the other thorny issues that will continue to linger over the first half of next year including the EU's deteriorating relations with Russia and how to proceed with membership talks with Turkey.

Although talks with Ankara have been partially suspended, there is scope to open negotiations in certain chapters – something that is bound to aggravate the fault lines between the pro- and anti-Turkish EU membership camp.

Germany's presidency will also coincide with the expansion of the bloc to Romania and Bulgaria – bringing EU membership to 27 and with it all the little teething problems that occur when new countries, with their own particular political baggage, join the club.

The 50 year anniversary of the bloc in March is also a potential political minefield with member states having to agree a short declaration that is supposed to summarise the state of the EU and where it is heading.

National governments already had a surprisingly hard time of it trying to plan the celebrations for the event – in the end favouring the more prosaic tree-planting over singing and dancing for fear of being ridiculed – while the logo for the anniversary saw some member states miffed because they felt they had not been consulted enough on its design.

Big versus small presidencies

While Berlin will try and keep a handle on these internal political issues, they will also be chairing the G8 – the group of the world's most industrialised countries – from January and will have to organise several high-profile summits, including an EU-US summit.

On average, there will be about 3-4 meetings every day with around 400 of them at the political level.

However, big country presidencies are not always as successful as those of smaller member states.

While smaller countries tend to operate tightly run ships and leave their national egos at home, larger countries often do not – although foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pledged during a Brussels visit in December that Berlin would be an "honest broker."

In 1999, when it was last an EU presidency, Germany lived up to the moniker, forced to fork out billions more than it wanted in order to get an eleventh hour deal on the budget after marathon talks.

However, it has subtly changed its stance within the EU since then to a more "Berlin-first" policy, something that can also be seen in its conscious decision to use German rather than English in all its presidency press briefings.

The most recent big presidency of the EU was by the UK last year. Prime minister Tony Blair started the stint off with a fiery oration before the European Parliament on how he was going to thoroughly shake up the EU, he laid out several plans for changing EU farm policy and making the bloc more focused on innovation spending.

By the end of the presidency, little had changed.

Leading up to this presidency however, Germany has been doing its best to play down all expectations pointing out several times that there is only so much a country can achieve in six months, and much of that is dependent on cooperation from the rest of the member states.

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