The rotation of the Council presidency is in the centre of attention every 6 months. Each EU Member State gets a chance in every thirteen years to shape the agenda of the EU’s highest decision-making body through presiding over Council meetings and prioritizing the objectives that are important for the particular country.
Many people consider it as a divine miracle that the EU Council’s presidency is taken over by Germany on 1st July, right when the institution is about to face the gravest crisis in its history.
We all know the reasons why Germany has always had a primary interest in keeping up the EU and reinforcing its agencies that are based on political and economic cooperation. Germany’s increasing economic weight and the fear of a German dominance drives the other Member States to call for an ever deeper integration. Furthermore, there is an enormous pressure on Chancellor Merkel, who is still considered as Europe’s leading politician despite getting closer to the end of her political career, to guide Europe out of its economic recession and all-out social depression.
In the post-war decades, Germany perfected the art of consensual politics while Ms Merkel’s nearly two decades of chancellorship has proven her aptitude in terms of finding leverage amongst the various opposing interests.
She will certainly need this aptitude of hers at least twice in the next six months: namely, when it comes to accepting the EU’s 2021-27 budget along with the related 750-bn-Euro temporary reinforcement plan, and the closure of the agreement on the United Kingdom’s exit. Let’s take a closer look at both.
Any agreement on the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) is fundamentally impeded by the fact that the Council needs to unanimously support it even before it is put up for a vote in the European Parliament.
Every budget debate is hampered by disagreements and opposing interests in terms of issues related to income and expenditure as well as funding and distribution.
In addition, the EU has to face another difficulty: it has no income on its own, it operates on the contributions of the Member States. This highly diverse community of 27 Member States is characterized by such a complex system of relations where sealing a deal in a Middle Eastern bazaar looks like a walk in the park in comparison. No matter how complicated it seems, the growing public pressure driven by the sentiment of a deepening economic crisis may force the stakeholders to come to an agreement as soon as possible.
However, the financial-economic pressure will not be the only factor driving the tension to a peak.
There are two fault lines that may substantially jeopardize the future of the European Union as a community based on the rule of law and solidarity.
Having brought the existing economic problems to the surface, the Covid-19 pandemic increased the North-South tension within the European Union (more specifically the Eurozone), which had been ill-prepared for the introduction of the common currency, especially in terms of the Maastricht convergence criteria. If the southern Member States, which already have significant debts and budget deficits, can only get the resources needed for their economic recovery as a loan repayable within a few years, they may suffer enormously in the long run even if the conditions of the loan are highly beneficial due to the 27 Member States acting as joint guarantors. What the example of Greece taught all of us is that excessive indebtedness leads to societal collapse in the Eurozone, as a result of the austerity measures jointly enforced by the local and the EU elites. On the other hand, the northern countries that made a virtue of frugality are clearly opposed to the idea of distributing economic resources in the form of funding, as they already have a good reason to assume that their own taxpaying citizens will have to cover the costs of the loans under the aegis of European solidarity.
As a committed supporter of a European community built upon Schumanian solidarity, I am convinced that the introduction of the Eurobonds would have been the only way for the Union to mutualize the debts and neutralize the effects of the crisis that hits each Member State, just like the USA can locally dampen the negative financial impacts of the crisis in each state by issuing the so-called “T-bill” at the federal level.
However, the idea of the Eurobonds was rejected by the April meeting of the highly influential Eurogroup that has no political legitimacy of any kind, by the way. The only remaining option is that Ms Merkel might find the mutually acceptable balance between distributing the resources as loans vs. funds.
The other equally big challenge for the German presidency is to enforce the fundamental rule of law criteria in the budget negotiations as certain national governments are busy dismantling the rule of law while the European political elite and the public are focused on economic crisis management.
Furthermore, the leaders of said national governments actually use the EU taxpayers’ money to solidify their regime and eliminate democracy.
Consequently, several Member States have rightfully demanded to include the rule of law criteria in the budget act, allowing the EU, as a last resort, to withhold EU funds from such countries.
EU politicians have a substantial experience in giving half-hearted solutions to serious conflicts of interest. The question is whether Angela Merkel is willing to blemish her political legacy with a compromise that is fatal for Europe’s future. We’ll soon know the answer.
(Next week’s post will discuss the issues related to the Brexit deal.)
My two latest posts focused on a key challenge for the German EU presidency: the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) and the closely related economic recovery package aimed at managing the crisis caused by the pandemic. As it has been reported in the media, the European Council of Member States’ heads of government agreed on the multiannual financial framework last week but, just a few days later, the extraordinary meeting of the European Parliament adopted a resolution with a two-thirds majority and rejected the agreement, voicing several critical remarks. Since the agreement cannot enter into effect without the approval of the EP as a co-legislator, the German presidency will need to put a serious effort this autumn into harmonizing Member State interests with the concerns of the Members of European Parliament.
Looking into the two most important tasks of the German presidency in my post last week, I discussed the adoption of the EU’s seven-year budget (MFF) and the economic recovery plan aimed at preventing the negative consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. Originally, I wanted to devote this week’s post to another great and pressing challenge with an equally large impact on the EU’s future: the agreement on the post-Brexit EU-UK relations. However, the topic has changed as the European Council reached an agreement in terms of the financial frameworks in the meantime. Just as for every other EU Member State, this agreement has some important lessons for us in Hungary, especially considering Viktor Orbán’s unorthodox maneuvers on the political stage.
The need to choose leaders to organize work activities, command armies, give guidance and help their communities to overcome difficulties is as old as the formation of the earliest human groups. Although leaders are selected in a completely different way now than they were in prehistoric times, the fundamental goals and needs have hardly changed over the millennia.
Due to their position, leaders tend to be granted certain powers and privileges but the very point of these privileges is to enable them to remove the obstacles from the way so that they could devote their full attention to the community’s welfare. Abusing these privileges or misusing them for the leaders’ private purposes is one of the most obvious markers of leadership incompetency. Leadership privileges certainly come with a significant amount of risk: leaders have to bear the weight of their decisions and sometimes even take personal risks in order to promote the welfare of the people. Just as ship captains are the last to jump in the lifeboat and police officers need to engage in a gunfight on occasion, politicians must be present in the public sphere and be the last to leave. Leaders who abuse or misuse their rights typically lose the people’s respect and are slowly forgotten or, in some cases, quickly ousted from their positions.