Germany focused on Europe recovery in leading the European Union

World | 30 Jun 2020 8:30 pm

Germany, the European Union’s biggest economic power, is taking over the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc amid massive challenges and huge expectations as the continent grapples with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Berlin’s six months in the EU hot seat will likely be Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last big turn on the international stage.

Germany’s time at the EU helm, which starts Wednesday, is bookended by landmark moments for the bloc.

At the beginning, the bloc will seek agreement on a huge package to pull its stricken economy out of the coronavirus crisis, and on its future budget. At the end, former member Britain’s definitive departure from the EU’s single market is expected -- with or without an agreement. In between, the EU must grapple with how to handle an increasingly assertive China and prepare for whatever happens in the U.S. presidential election in November.

Berlin, which will chair meetings of the 27 EU countries’ ministers, will have to help prevent new rifts emerging as the damage from the pandemic becomes clearer and worries linger about a possible second wave of infections. Europe as a whole has seen over 190,000 confirmed virus-related deaths in the pandemic — nearly 40% of the world’s officially reported deaths — and is emerging from lockdowns in many countries that weighed severely on their economies.

Germany’s motto for its presidency is “together for Europe’s recovery.” Merkel told the German parliament recently that “we must not allow the pandemic to lead to the economic prospects of the EU member states drifting apart.”

“The anti-democratic forces, the radical, authoritarian movements, are just waiting for economic crises to misuse them politically,” she added. “They are just waiting to stoke social fears and spread insecurity. Working for sustainable development in all regions of Europe is also a political instrument against populists and radicals.”

Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in May proposed creating a one-time 500 billion-euro  recovery fund that would be filled through shared EU borrowing. That is a big step for Germany, breaking with its long-standing opposition to any kind of joint borrowing.

The EU’s executive Commission expanded on the proposal, putting forward plans for a 750 billion-euro fund made up mostly of grants. It faces resistance from countries dubbed the “Frugal Four” — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden — that oppose grants and are reluctant to give money away without strings attached.

It will be up to Germany to help find a quick agreement, ideally when EU leaders meet July 17-18 for their first in-person summit in months, on both the recovery fund and the EU’s budget for seven years starting Jan. 1.

“Our task will be to work as an honest broker for compromises and solutions among the member states,” Merkel said in a weekend video message. “That isn’t always easy,” she added with characteristic understatement.

Germany’s turn follows a rough ride for Croatia, the EU’s newest member, which held the presidency as countries responded to the explosion of coronavirus infections in March with uncoordinated border closures and other restrictions.-AP



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