Ministers debat the priorities of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU with MEPs in a series of meetings in parliamentary committees.
Germany holds the Presidency of the Council until the end of 2020. A first series of hearings took place from 3 to 16 July. A second set of hearings happened during the first week of September.
Hearings held on 1, 2 and 3 September
On 1 September, MEPs of the Constitutional Affairs Committee quizzed State Minister for Europe Michael Roth on the preparations for the Conference on the Future of Europe. Roth acknowledged that “the level of ambition differs from one institution to the other”, but insisted that “all have to pull in the same direction” and agreed with most members that citizens should get a centre stage.
The statute of the European Ombudsman, the EU Transparency Register, rule of law, the future EU-UK relationship, the EP’s right of inquiry and the reform of the electoral law were also raised in the debate.
Culture and Education
On 1 September, Commissioner for Culture and Media Monika Grütters reassured Members of the Culture and Education Committee that managing the Covid-19 consequences for culture was a priority for the EU in the coming months. She expressed support for the request of the committee to “earmark” EU recovery funding, in order “to make it possible for 1-2% of EU expenditure to flow into culture and media measures”.
Members used the opportunity to ask the German presidency to support the EP demands to properly fund Erasmus+ within the next Multi-annual Financial Framework for 2021-2027. They also called for the Council presidency to focus on accessibility to online learning across Europe, the future of the sports sector, mobility of apprentices, cultural and language diversity, freedom of expression, the cross-European dimension of cultural and creative projects, and inequality among Member States in their support for culture and media.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
During their discussion with German finance minister Olaf Scholz on 2 September, Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee MEPs focussed largely on the EU’s recovery package, and attempts at establishing new own resources to finance the EU’s recovery.
Most MEPs taking the floor pressed Mr Scholz to reach concrete and good progress on establishing new own resources, notably to ensure the proper financing of the EU’s economic recovery commitments. They noted that progress to date has been far too little. A few however also raised concerns that new instruments agreed could lead to the EU becoming a transfer union. Mr Scholz assured that legislation on new own resources will be a major priority of the German Presidency. Taxation legislation, notably possible progress on tax transparency and a financial transaction tax, was also raised by some MEPs.
Mercosur, the agreement between the EU and four Latin American countries, figured prominently in questions from Members of the International trade Committee, following Economic Affairs and Energy Minister Peter Altmaier’s presentation of Presidency’s priorities in trade policy. MEPs consider the reform of the WTO, the investment agreement with China, and EU-US trade relations as further critical issues to tackle during the presidency.
Altmaier emphasised the presidency’s intention to conclude ongoing trade negotiations among EU institutions on the enforcement regulation and on dual use products.
On 3 September, Food and Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner underlined that the top priority in the field of fisheries is reaching a political agreement on the future EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund) and that any compromise will need to be compatible with ongoing WTO negotiations on harmful subsidies. The Presidency is very optimistic that an agreement on the Eastern Baltic cod measures should be reached during the second round of negotiations at the end of September. Important decisions are also expected on the quotas and total allowable catches for 2021.
Regarding Brexit, the Minister reiterated the need to defend the interests of the EU fishing and processing industries, while at the same time ensuring that stocks are managed in a sustainable way; preparations are ongoing for all scenarios, including the possibility of a no-deal before the end of the year.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
In the exchange of views with Members of the Civil Liberties Committee, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht explained that the Presidency will focus on increasing the resilience of the justice systems post-COVID-19 by concentrating on its further digitalisation. Regarding the Rule of Law, the German Presidency intends to organise discussions in the Council in the follow up to the Commission's Annual Rule of Law Report.
Other issues raised included MFF, Rule of Law conditionality, hate speech, child sex abuse online, the e-evidence proposals, the use of facial recognition and the EU's accession to the European Convention of Human Rights.
On 3 September, Niels Annen, Minister for State, at the German Federal Foreign Office, told the Development Committee that the presidency has two main priorities on humanitarian aid. Firstly, it will put emphasis on anticipatory humanitarian action - pre-determined, pre-financed activities that, based on a credible forecast, enable early action ahead of crises to save lives, mitigate the impact of crises, - including on climate change, and promote a common EU position. Secondly, it will promote respect for compliance with international humanitarian law and humanitarian space.
In the debate, MEPs questioned, among several topics, how the Presidency was planning to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a huge impact on humanitarian crises by increasing health-related needs, and worsening the economic situation of vulnerable populations.