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Article - European Economic Policy

The German Presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2020

Introduction

In the six months between 1 July and 31 December 2020, Germany held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier presided over a number of Council formations and used the Presidency to closely coordinate economic policy initiatives with Germany’s European partners.

The Council of the European Union is one of the key bodies of the European Union. The main task of the Presidency consists in chairing the meetings of the Council and its preparatory committees and working parties. The Presidency of the Council of the EU represents the Council in its dealings with other EU bodies, for example during negotiations on legislative acts with the European Parliament and the European Commission, but also vis-à-vis third countries and international organisations.

The Council convenes in different configurations depending on the issues under discussion. Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier presided over five such Council configurations: the Competitiveness, Energy, Telecommunications, Trade, and Cohesion councils.

Taking over from Germany, Portugal and Slovenia will hold the Presidency in the first and second halves of 2021 respectively. Together with these two countries, Germany forms a Trio Presidency. Close cooperation between the trio partners is intended to foster continuity in EU policy. The eighteen-month Trio Presidency focuses on the areas set out in the Trio Programme, which was adopted in June 2020.

 

Peter Altmaier, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy

“Together for Europe’s recovery” was both the motto and principle guiding our Presidency of the EU Council. The important decisions we have taken have paved the way for the recovery and long-term viability of the European economy.

Engaged in dialogue

Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier in dialogue with European partners

A Council Presidency can only be successful if it is based on close cooperation with all European partners. Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier therefore engaged in close dialogue with many of his colleagues from EU Member States and with representatives of the European institutions throughout Germany’s Presidency, as he did in the run-up to it.

Economic Affairs Minister Altmaier said: “When Germany assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU, it took responsibility in very challenging times. ‘Together for Europe’s recovery’ is the motto we have sought to live up to. I am proud that, through close and trusting cooperation with our European partners, we have taken major steps in the past six months to make sure Europe’s economy will not only recover, but emerge stronger from the crisis.”

Germany worked together closely and continuously with its Trio partners Portugal and Slovenia. Economic Affairs Minister Altmaier set the stage for this partnership when he received his colleagues from the Trio countries in Berlin in September 2019. Additional talks were held in May and December 2020 via video link.

On 31 December 2020, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs Peter Altmaier passed the baton for the Presidency to his Portuguese counterpart Pedro Siza Vieira.

All throughout the German Presidency, Minister Altmaier remained in regular dialogue with members of the European Parliament and European Commission as well as stakeholders and civil society representatives. This ensured that all the key players were involved in the work of the German Presidency.

Press release

Importance of the Presidency for Germany

What the Council Presidency meant for Germany

The task of the Council Presidency is to at as a neutral broker to represent the interests of the Member States and to advance the European Union. This responsibility offers opportunities for shaping policy priorities and objectives. The Presidency of the Council of the EU can help steer the course of current European policy. In order to do so, it needs to closely coordinate its activities with the other Member States.

During its Council Presidency, Germany planned to host a variety of informal ministerial meetings, conferences, and expert events to portray itself as a modern, dynamic, and outward-looking country with a strong and innovative economy. The Federal Government deliberately planned the events in a decentralised manner to give expression to the country’s federal structure and allow guests to experience Germany’s cultural variety in as many places as possible. Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier wanted to meet his European colleagues in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony-Anhalt, Baden-Württemberg, and Berlin, to name but a few examples.

Sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of these events had to be held online.

Taking stock

Economic policy results of the German Presidency of the EU Council

The main focus of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU was to pave the way for economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus crisis while enhancing the resilience of European business. This included boosting competitiveness and innovative capacities, keeping markets open and opposing protectionism, pushing ahead with the transition towards clean growth and strengthening the EU’s digital and technological sovereignty. Special consideration was given to the competitiveness of Europe’s many small and medium-sized, often family-run companies as well as the industrial sector. An important milestone was marked when the Council of the EU and the European Parliament agreed on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021–2027 and on the temporary European Recovery Instrument. In addition to securing the financial basis for the reforms needed to tackle the current crisis, the agreement also paved the way for a successful structural transition towards a digital and green economy that will be vital to future growth, prosperity and employment.

Under the German Presidency, the Council of the European Union agreed on important strategic guidelines concerning issues such as the future of the Single Market, European industrial policy, public procurement and better regulation. These are major steps towards creating a modern level playing field, particularly for SMEs and the industrial sector, and towards enhancing the resilience of Europe’s economy.

The voice of the European Union as an advocate of open markets and rules-based trade was strengthened during Germany’s Council Presidency. Substantial progress was made in the discussions on the reorientation of EU trade policy and the future of EU relations with the United States and China – two important trading partners.

By adopting joint declarations on the European Cloud Federation and on the launch of a European initiative in the field of microprocessors and semiconductor technologies, the EU Member States took major steps towards enhancing Europe’s digital sovereignty and establishing a secure European infrastructure for data.

Germany’s Council Presidency also placed a clear focus on efforts to shape structural change and harness the opportunities offered by the European Green Deal. By reaching broad political agreement with the European Parliament on the legislative package for the EU structural funds, the foundation was laid for a modern EU structural policy that promotes investment in forward-looking technologies and supports economic transformation. The Council conclusions on hydrogen and offshore wind energy, two key forward-looking technologies, made a major contribution towards the attainment of the EU’s energy and climate targets.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s brochure entitled ‘Taking stock of Germany’s Council Presidency in the field of economic policy – Results of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’ summarises the progress that was made in the course of the past six months.
The brochure can be found here.

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