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Article - European Economic Policy

Responsibilities as a ministry for European affairs

Introduction

Since the early days of the Federal Republic, the Economic Affairs Ministry has always played a major part in shaping Germany’s European policy and, by extension, European integration.

As the ministry for European affairs, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy is responsible for coordinating and shaping the Federal Government’s policy on European affairs together with the Federal Foreign Office. In this role, it represents Germany’s positions in Brussels, particularly on the Council of the European Union. Besides taking the lead on economic policy in this context, it also holds responsibility within the Federal Government for EU state aid control policy, representing the Federal Republic in cases brought before the European courts as well as initiatives for better regulation and cutting red tape.

Responsibilities as a ministry for European affairs

Since the early days of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Economics Affairs Ministry has always played an important role in Germany’s policy on Europe. Even during the negotiations for the Treaties of Rome signed in 1957, it already became clear that the Federal Republic needed a coordinated policy approach on Europe. Heinrich von Brentano, Foreign Minister from 1955 to 1961, regarded European affairs as a cornerstone of foreign policy. He viewed the European Community predominantly as a political project to win back German sovereignty. At the same time, Ludwig Erhard, Economic Affairs Minister from 1949 to 1963, also claimed a lead role for his ministry. His priority was economic integration, which was to be based on the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and modelled on the principles of German economic policy. This was also reflected in the structure of the ministry: in 1951, a Directorate for the European Coal and Steel Community was established, followed by the Directorate-General for European Policy in 1958.

After the 1957 general election, Konrad Adenauer, Federal Chancellor from 1949 to 1963, transferred all responsibility for European economic policy to the Ministry for Economic Affairs. In 1958 the Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Affairs signed an agreement setting out the distribution of responsibilities between the two ministries. The Foreign Office was to be in charge of the further development of the Treaties and foreign policy affairs on the Council of Ministers, while responsibility for economic policy issues rested with the Ministry for Economic Affairs. To this day, Germany’s European policy is still organised along the lines of this division of responsibilities.

Trade and cross-border interaction

Ludwig Erhard, who was Economic Affairs Minister at that time, and the then State Secretary for Europe, Alfred Müller-Armack, campaigned for a modern competition policy, wide-ranging trade facilitation as well as an enlargement of the Community and the Common Market. The Customs Union reduced barriers to trade between the Member States of the European Economic Community (EEC) and fostered cross-border interaction.

European Flag

EU milestones

1

18 April 1951

2

25 March 1957

3

1 July 1967

4

7 and 10 June 1979

5

1 November 1993

6

26 March 1995

7

1 January 2002

8

1 May 2004

9

1 June 2005

10

1 December 2009

11

10 December 2012

12

23 June 2016

The “European Coal and Steel Community” (ECSC) is established.

The “European Economic Community” (EEC) and the “European Atomic Energy Community” (EURATOM) are established (“Treaties of Rome”).

The 1965 Merger Treaty enters into force: the EEC, EURATOM and ECSC become the “European Communities” (EC).

The first European elections to the European Parliament are held.

The Maastricht Treaty enters into force. This creates the EU and extends cooperation (e.g. common foreign and security policy, economic and monetary union).

The Schengen Agreement to abolish border controls at the internal borders of initially five states enters into force.

The euro is introduced in twelve EU countries, establishing a common currency.

Major EU enlargement to overcome the division of Europe created during the “Cold War”.

The EU Constitution is rejected in referendums in France (29 May) and the Netherlands (1 June) and cannot enter into force.

The “Treaty of Lisbon” creates a new common basis for the EU.

The EU receives the Nobel Peace Prize.

UK citizens vote to leave the EU (Brexit).

European policy coordination

How are decisions on European policy taken within the Federal Government?

Due to increasing European integration, almost every policy area now has a European sphere to it. Against this background, it is particularly important that German interests are represented effectively in Brussels, particularly on the Council of the European Union. In order to ensure that this happens, positions must be developed and agreed between all stakeholders at national level as early as possible.

In Germany it is the joint responsibility of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and the Federal Foreign Office to ensure that the Federal Government speaks with one voice when dealing with the various EU institutions in Brussels.

Coordinating role of the Economic Affairs Ministry

European policy coordination within the Federal Government takes place in dedicated coordination units at different levels of government. These units are focused on EU affairs and help to speed up decision-making and resolve potential conflicts. They include, above all, the State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs chaired by the Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office (with the representative from the Economic Affairs Ministry acting as deputy chair) and the round table of the European Affairs Directors-General of the federal ministries (co-chaired by the Foreign Office and the Economic Affairs Ministry). In addition, each Federal Ministry has a European Affairs Officer who serves as the main contact for all European policy matters.

Another important coordinating task for the Economic Affairs Ministry consists in instructing the German ambassador on the Permanent Representatives Committee I (Coreper I) in Brussels. This committee convenes weekly and is made up of representatives from all Member States. Its tasks include preparing the work of the EU Councils of Ministers on competitiveness, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, environment, employment and social policy. Based on the instructions received, the Ambassador expresses the German position on the Committee in Brussels.

Responsibility for instructing the German representatives on the Coreper committees is shared between the Economic Affairs Ministry and the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office instructs the German representative on Coreper II which prepares the work of 4 Council configurations: The General Affairs Council, the Foreign Affairs Council, the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) and the Justice and Home Affairs Council.

Cooperation with the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat

The Economic Affairs Ministry also ensures that the German Bundestag and the Bundesrat are informed comprehensively, in good time and continuously about current EU business. This is important in order to allow these bodies to exercise their constitutional participation rights in the Federal Government’s European policy. The details are set out in the ‘Act on Cooperation between the Federal Government and the German Bundestag in Matters concerning the European Union’ (EUZBBG) and the ‘Act on Cooperation between the Federation and the Federal States in Matters concerning the European Union’ (EUZBLG). This ensures that the Bundestag and the Bundesrat are able to express an opinion on the Federal Government’s position in European policy initiatives and thus exercise their influence on deliberations at EU level, particularly regarding EU legislation.

European elections

European Parliamentary Elections

There are various ways in which European Union citizens can get involved in the political decision-making process at EU level. Apart from petitions, citizens’ enquiries and dialogue forums such as the EU Citizens’ Dialogues, this includes, above all, the European Parliamentary Elections.

The European Parliament represents the interests of European citizens. It is the only EU institution elected in direct democratic elections and has legislative and budgetary co-decision-making powers. In addition, the European Parliament votes on and elects the candidate for the presidency of the European Commission proposed by the European Council. The elections take place every five years. From 23 to 26 May 2019, all Member States held European elections for the ninth time. The logistics are challenging: the 2019 European Parliamentary elections were the biggest cross-border elections ever held simultaneously.

Representing the interests of all EU citizens

The European Parliamentary elections are based on the principle of proportional representation using party lists. Each voter has one vote and votes for a list proposed by a party or political association. In principle, all European Union citizens have the right to vote. EU citizens residing in a Member State of which they are not nationals can vote either in their country of residence or their country of origin.

The legal basis for the elections consists of the national provisions of the individual Member States and the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. It stipulates that the European Parliament shall have 751 Members. The maximum number of MEPs for an individual country is 96, the minimum number is 6. The seats are distributed among Member States within these limits. Countries with large populations will receive a higher number of seats in total, but less than smaller countries if viewed in proportion to their population. Germany has the highest number of MEPs (96). Once the UK has left the EU, the number of MEPs will decrease to 705.

On 3 July 2019, David-Maria Sassoli from Italy (S&D) was elected as President of the European Parliament.

“This time I’m voting”

The EU-wide campaign “This time I’m voting” was an initiative of the European Parliament in the run-up to the 2019 European elections with the aim of increasing voter turnout in general. In Germany, the turnout in 2019 was 61.4%. This was the highest turnout for 20 years and a significant increase compared to 2014, when roughly 48% of eligible EU citizens voted in the European elections.

European Parliament

European votes in 2019

1

Autumn/winter 2018

2

14-18 April 2019

3

26 May 2019

4

2-4 July 2019

5

July 2019

6

Expected November 2019

Nomination of the lead candidates for the European elections

Last parliamentary session before the election

Election day in Germany (elections take place every 5 years)

First session of the new parliament (election of the President of the European Parliament and formation of the parliamentary groups)

European Parliament votes on the new President of the European Commission

European Parliament approves the members of the European Commission

Contact

Advice and information about the EU for citizens and companies

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy helps citizens solve cross-border problems in the EU internal market through the SOLVIT network. Together with business, it also analyses current EU projects in terms of their significance for SMEs.

The SME monitor for EU initiatives strengthens the involvement of SMEs in important EU projects. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can find out at an early stage about relevant projects and feed their interests into ongoing consultation procedures. Find out more.

SOLVIT: Unbureaucratic support for citizens and companies

SOLVIT is a network in which all EU and EEA members work together to find pragmatic solutions for the problems of citizens and companies caused by the incorrect application of internal market provisions by authorities.

Responsibilities of the Centre of Excellence on European Law

The Directorate-General for European Policy at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Technology acts as a co-ordinator on central issues relating to European legislation at federal and, in many cases, at Länder level as well. In addition, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy represents Germany in all cases that are brought before the European courts in Luxembourg.

It is responsible for providing legal expertise in the field of EU law, the extra-judicial settlement of disputes with the European Commission (infringement proceedings) and issues that cut across multiple sectors, such as review of compliance with the principle of subsidiarity or the fending off of penalty payments. Find out more.

Further information

Flags in front of the European Parliament