24 June 2020
The German EU Presidency: expectations of progressive cities and regions

The German EU Presidency: expectations of progressive cities and regions

The corona pandemic is also a challenge for the German EU Council Presidency (which will start on the 1st of July). The originally planned program had to be put on the “corona test bench” and important new political projects needed to be taken up at short notice. Negotiations on the European recovery instrument “Next Generation EU” and on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) from 2021 on will shape political events in the second half of 2020.

What are the key expectations and demands of progressive cities and regions for the German Presidency? We collected a few opinions.

 

Birgit Honé, Minister for Federal and European Affairs and Regional Development of Lower Saxony and PES Group member

 

After the severe crisis caused by the corona pandemic, we need to focus first on reconstructing. This implies showing solidarity particularly with the Member States that have been hit the hardest. In my opinion, there is an opportunity in every crisis. It is now up to us to build, and even to better, Europe together: an economically strong Europe, but also a social Europe. I hope that the German EU Council Presidency will strengthen Europe's social side and, above all, that it will push things forward for matters such as fair minimum wages in all Member States, a European unemployment reinsurance scheme and the strengthening of the overall cohesion.

I also expect the German Presidency to make it clear to the Member States that do not adhere to the rule of law that we are not a loose community of states and that we are committed to certain principles. The Presidency must find ways and means to ensure that all Member States respect these rules.

Another important point is that the financial framework for the next EU period has to be set. Our project partners in Lower Saxony want to know if they can continue to carry out their projects. We need to organise ourselves security wise, especially after experiencing the corona pandemic. Associations of volunteers, which are very deeply rooted in Lower Saxony, must also know whether their initiatives can be further funded. We need an agreement for this as soon as possible.

Follow Birgit on Twitter @MBNiedersachsen.

 

***

Photo Credits: MB Niedersachsen

 

 

 

Dr. Peter Kurz, Lord Mayor of Mannheim and PES Group member

 

“Together for Europe's recovery.” This is the motto of Germany's EU Council Presidency and it confirms how aware we are of the high expectations that rest on this Presidency's shoulders.

The corona crisis is (and has been) a serious challenge for European integration. Fortunately, after the Member States' initial uncoordinated individual actions, we can now conclude that the European institutions have recognized the challenge's importance and are taking measures that have been unprecedented in the history of the EU. It is important to keep an eye on the right objectives. As lord mayor of a city firmly rooted in Europe, I have three main demands for the German EU Presidency.

Firstly, the negotiations on the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) will shape the next six months. The Federal Government must take into account that European cities are the ones that will have to struggle with the consequences of the pandemic for the months to come, because of their size and of the density of their infrastructure. It is in cities that the effects on the health system were the most serious and that the economic damages were (and still are) the greatest. The loss of revenue in the public transport sector is just one example of this. The financial aid measures that have now to be decided must therefore appear where they are most urgently needed i.e. in European cities. Our experience with European regional funds shows that interposing several government levels when implementing EU policies does not make sense. The German EU Presidency must therefore advocate for the direct access of cities to the European recovery instrument “Next Generation EU”. As cities, we have a large part of the European Commission and of the European Parliament on our side. The ball is thus now in the European Member States' court.

Secondly, a substantial part of the European recovery aid is financed by loans. It must therefore be a top priority for the Council Presidency that the EU now spends its funds on protecting the economic power and the future generations' way of life from the worst consequences of the recession. The investments in all European countries must be in line with a socially and environmentally just transition as well as with the European Green Deal.

Thirdly, the Council's German Presidency must finally drive forward the Conference on the Future of Europe, to which great expectations regarding citizens' participation and institutional reforms are closely linked. This first requires an agreement among the EU Member States, which the German Council Presidency should rapidly induce. Cities (which are the closest political level of the EU) are happy to take an active part as partners in the implementation of the Conference on the Future of Europe as a broad participatory process.

Follow Peter on Twitter @obkurz.

 

***

Photo Credits: MVV Energie AG

 

 

 

Heike Raab, State Secretary and Representative of the Land of Rhineland Palatinate to the Federal Government, with responsibility for Europe, the Media and Digital Affairs, and PES Group member

 

 

The corona crisis has revealed the great solidarity that exists within the EU as well as the deficits that are still present. So far, all crises have strengthened the EU - the German EU Presidency will be one of the deciding factors for this success. It is a responsibility rather than a chance for Germany to bring all Member States together within the framework of the German EU Council Presidency, to generate willingness to cooperate and to initiate new mechanisms of solidarity. It is about maintaining the project of EU integration itself.

 

The German Federal States will participate actively and intensively in the European political discourse within the framework of the German EU Council Presidency. They therefore advocate for the respect of their responsibilities and for the further strengthening of the participation and information opportunities of regional and local authorities in Europe. This concerns the deepening of the political dialogue as well as the involvement of the European Committee of the Regions and the strengthening of the position of the regional and local representations in Brussels.

The German Federal States appeal to the Federal Government to pay special attention to the preservation of subsidiarity during the discussion in the Council. It should also use, in the interest of proximity to the citizen and of the maintenance of a regional scope, the broadly defined competence clauses (such as the internal market competence, Art. 114 TFEU) in a self-limiting and careful way. Expanded impact assessments on regional, territorial and cross-border impacts would make it easier for national and regional parliaments to take a closer look at the proposals. All new measures and the next long-term EU budget must take into account regional and local experience.

Follow Heike on Twitter @HeikeRaab.

 

***

Photo Credits: Landesvertretung Rheinland-Pfalz/Marc-Steffen Unger

 

 

 

Isolde Ries, First Vice- President of the Saarland Regional Parliament and PES Group member

 

 

Less than a year ago, the shaping of the EU Council Presidency was largely subject to the question of whether the current Federal Government would still be in office when the time came. The focus was on the development of the EU's Multiannual Financial Framework and on the discussions regarding a Green New Deal.

Less than a year later, a lot has changed. The immediate impact of the corona pandemic on national health systems, on educational institutions and on the European economy is fatal. The closing of borders without a proper prior consultation with our partners has also smashed many diplomatic dishes, especially in the Saarland. The crisis has mercilessly exposed the weaknesses of the European Union. Therefore, a lot points towards the idea that ​​a European partnership must evolve in order to meet the challenges of a globalized world.

The forthcoming EU Council Presidency should therefore include two dimensions: acute crisis management and lessons learned from the crisis. Acute crisis management involves agreeing on a European recovery fund (such as pushed forward by Angela Merkel and Emanuel Macron). As an export nation, we are only doing well if our friends are also doing well. This is why there is a stable political majority in Germany for a recovery fund. We do not support those who want to hide their accountability under the pretence of austerity. The economic reconstruction will only succeed if strong shoulders are ready to bear more.

The crisis also revealed the need for a reform. The unilateral and uncoordinated closing of internal borders will find its way into history books as a sad symbol of the corona pandemic. My impression was also that some politicians were just waiting to reverse unpleasant developments in communitarianism. For us in Saarland, one thing is sure: something like this must never happen again. A closely coordinated civil protection concept is needed in the border region.

At the same time, we also need a new reflection at the level of the Member States: for too long, the crisis gave the impression that we are on our own. Solidarity has shown its value in the crisis. The EU must now take precautionary measures: wherever austerity policies have not spared public services these past years, mistakes must be fixed. When health systems are undermined, their capacities are no longer sufficient when they are particularly needed. However, there is also a need to create European production facilities for medical material and pharmaceutical products. We should not depend on other continents to do this.

The climate crisis must not be neglected either. For us in Saarland, it is important that environmental protection measures do not go hand in hand with the deindustrialization of our country and with the loss of millions of jobs: the transformation of the industry can only succeed if the EU supports a massive restructuration of the industry towards a low-carbon type of production. Nobody will benefit from it if steel is produced outside of Europe in poorer and lower environmental working conditions in the future. At this time, I expect concrete suggestions on how the environment, jobs and innovation can be brought together. With its hydrogen strategy and the additional funds in the economic stimulus package, the German Government has made its first suggestions. Now it is important that dashes in strategy papers also result in real actions. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, is just as responsible for this as Peter Altmaier, the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy.

Pandemics, the climate, economic crises - the challenges of the 21st century are global ones. Each Member State is too small to be able to counter them alone. It is only when we speak with one voice that others will hear us. This is what we Social Democrats are fighting for.

***

Photo Credits: SPD-Landtagsfraktion/Tom Gundelwein

 

 

 

Markus Töns, member of the German Bundestag, Deputy Chairman of the European committee and former First Vice-President of the PES Group

 

 

The expectations of the German Council Presidency are high, also in the Ruhr area. The corona pandemic has turned many people's lives upside down and there is great uncertainty about the future. In addition, we agreed on a European Green Deal to promote the social and ecological restructuring of the European economy and industry.

In order for this to become a success, we need a properly financed budget with the right tools. The negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework are therefore of great importance. It is not just about the budget's amount, but also about setting the right priorities. In the Ruhr area, it is important for us that all regions in Europe remain eligible for funding. However, this also means that the structural and cohesion funds must be adequately equipped. We also need the Just Transition Funds. The socio-ecological restructuring of the economy can only succeed if the regions are not left behind socially and economically by this transition.

In my home town of Gelsenkirchen, we are facing major changes (as it is often the case). The hard coal-fired power plant is to be converted into a gas turbine power plant in the next few years. The vacated areas are to be converted into a real laboratory for the industrial use of hydrogen. The possibilities of EU funding play an important role in this process, because only with their help can we get sufficient public funding for this major project.

In addition to these very concrete expectations, there is also the rather vague feeling that the roles of Germany and of Europe in the world have changed and need to be re-established. The UK is leaving the EU; the US and China are in a trade conflict with us. We Europeans must also find an answer to these conflicts. The foundation stone for this must be laid within the framework of the German Council Presidency.

Even if Germany holds the Council Presidency, we cannot deal with all conflicts on our own and must rely on the other Member States' ability to compromise. The agreement on European bonds to finance the reconstruction program gives hope that the Member States have found a new unity. With this willingness to reach an agreement, negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework should now be concluded quickly so that the regions can access the new funds without major delays. This is the only way to quickly overcome the economic consequences of the crisis.

Follow Markus on Twitter @Toens_NRW04.

 

***

 

Top