From the English: “honest broker”. Or mediator. Or, as Vienna liked to call it: bridge builders. The names that countries give themselves when they hold the EU Presidency are diverse. They express the function, but also the restrictions, which the presidency brings with it. Over the course of time, this has lost competences: it is no longer the head of state or government who leads the top meetings with his counterparts, but the president of the council, who is appointed for at least two and a half years. In addition, there is the mediating role of the presidency, which must not represent its interests as aggressively as it could, if it did not have to find a consensus with other members. Nevertheless, with all the limitations and the corset of daily EU business: the presidency can very well set its own priorities and priorities.
A few days ago, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas declared his country to be the “motor and moderator”. His task is nothing less than “finding solutions that ultimately benefit everyone in Europe”.
In fact, the expectations of a presidency could hardly be higher than this time. And at its core is Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has headed the largest economy in the EU for almost 15 years. Last time, during the EU Presidency in 2007, she was faced with a crisis scenario when the laboriously negotiated EU constitution initially failed. This is now surpassed by the Corona crisis.
The Chancellor believes that Merkel will be able to master them – and not least, it will later be used to measure whether she will be considered a great European politician. She is aware of the demands, and even if she tries to seal off a little, she says in her latest video message: “We want to meet these expectations by working to ensure that we all get out of the crisis together and we Europe at the same time prepare the future. “
This crisis, which has once again become an ordeal for the community, also overlaps the other points on the German agenda. The work program has been revised several times. The issues of climate protection, digitization and the foreign policy goal of being united and consistent with partners such as China or Russia can still be found in it. However, the focus is on the struggle to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn across Europe. This is closely linked to the Union budget, on the multiannual framework of which the states will have to agree this year.
At least in the attempts to establish a reconstruction fund, Merkel can count on two powerful allies. One is French President Emmanuel Macron. Just two days before the start of the German Presidency, Merkel welcomed him to Meseberg Castle near Berlin, the first foreign guest since the Corona locks. “Germany and France want to play a role together in the coming months,” said the Chancellor afterwards.
The two neighbors are already doing that. Their joint initiative for the EU aid fund, which provides grants for countries particularly affected by the pandemic in the amount of 500 billion euros, paved the way for the EU Commission to make its own proposal.
Power of authority
Another potential ally of Merkel sits in the Brussels authorities: the former minister and current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The two women had been companions for many years, but also had differences of opinion in the government. But until now they have exchanged information regularly, so they should send SMS between Brussels and Berlin every day.
The fact that two Germans are now at the top of Europe does not seem to fuel the other Member States’ great fears of Germany’s superiority. Rather, they should expect Berlin to be more of a motor than a moderator. Italy, for example, is hoping for support in setting up the reconstruction fund. Poland should take the opportunity to improve neighborly relations, which Germany is more than willing to do. Even Austria, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark could be influenced by Germany’s authority. The “Frugal Four” still resist generous financial aid for economically hard-hit members. But Berlin is working massively on giving in.