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German Ambassador to the Holy See on Germany’s upcoming EU presidency

Ambassador Michael Koch, German Ambassador to the Holy See discusses the upcoming German EU presidency and the challenges the EU will have to tackle in the following months.

By Vatican News

Germany assumes today the presidency of the Council of the European Union, a mandate which lasts six months. This means that from July to December 2020, Germany will chair the meetings of the EU Council and will be responsible for advancing EU legislation.

Speaking to Vatican Radio’s Gudrun Sailer, German Ambassador to the Holy See, Michael Koch notes that given the current crisis in which we find ourselves “this will be a corona presidency”.

Phase I: coronavirus

Ambassador Koch explains that the most important task to tackle in the first two months will be to “move forward the ambitious program of the EU commission under the heading EU next generation”: three quarters of a trillion Euro to get the European economies that have suffered from the coronavirus crisis going again. On top of this, adds Ambassador Koch, and “linked very intimately with this question” is the “possibly even more challenging multi-year financial framework”. This, he explains, is the budget of the European Union for all seven years of presidency, beginning in the year 2020, “and as anyone can easily imagine there are widely diverging views on what should happen as part of this budget”, he says.

Ambassador Koch goes on to explain that “the key thing to understand” is that the budget and the program EU next generation will be linked because this special program “will be administered through the budgetary process”. It is for this reason that they need to be passed together, and because of the “innumerable technical implementations that will then be necessary”, it will need to be done within the next two weeks.

“We are going to have our hands full until the end of the year so that beginning next year, the money agreed on as part of EU next generation can actually start to flow” into the countries that are expecting it.

Phase II: Brexit

According to Ambassador Koch, “priority number two will be Brexit”. Timing is also important with regards to Brexit he says. “We basically have to be through by November”, he explains, because of the formal requirements, “particularly the necessity for any deal that we may reach with the United Kingdom to pass with all parliaments for such a deal to become law as a requirement”.  Ambassador Koch emphasises that “we will not walk over the cliff on 1 January” when Germany’s 6 month presidency will have ended, but rather take this relationship into a new, regulated reality .

He explains that, although negotiations have not been going well, “Germany is eager to organise for the closest possible relationship between the European Union and Great Britain”. “We feel that the British are having difficulties” in realising, understanding and accepting, that Brexit has its downsides, too”, he explains.

On the other hand, adds the Ambassador, “we think the chances of reaching a successful outcome are better than it looks right now and Germany will certainly do what it can to make a positive outcome more likely”.

Phase III

Then, says Ambassador Koch, as a third phase there is “everything else. Many things which include the Green Deal that the Commissioner had proposed”. This, he says is “another project that I think we will have to interlink with the European recovery program” in order to “get a European economy going again”.

Another important issue that will have to be addressed is a refugee policy within the European Union. Ambassador Koch says that in the upcoming months “we  plan  to  launch another attempt  to come to an agreement on a common Refugee policy”, adding that it is well-known that at this moment “we are far away from a common position”.

Other issues that will have to be tackled include that of “the rule of law” and “some foreign policy issues” as well as bearing in mind the EU’s relationship with China even though the summit planned in Leipzig with China in September has been postponed. Then, “we have sub-Saharan Africa, the new mission in the Mediterranean, we have Western Balkans and the question of how to continue to develop relations with the countries situated there”. So, overall there is “a lot to do”, says Ambassador Koch, re-emphasising that coronavirus will, however, be the main topic.

European crisis

Although the EU next generation is “certainly not the only tool” to strengthen Europe as it faces the most serious crisis in its history, it is “the most important”, says Ambassador Koch. If it is successful “and we would like it to be”, it will show Europeans, individual people, companies and enterprises that “Europe is with them, that it stands by their side in an hour of need”.

“We believe very strongly [in a] new European solidarity, and we recognize that [in] the beginning of this crisis, this European solidarity was not as obvious and visible as we would have liked it to be, so we have to renew this. Europe must become stronger and it must leave this crisis stronger than it entered it. And the way to do that, or one way to do that, is to organize this massive effort of practical solidarity as a way to show to people that Europe is not just an abstraction but something that is a real force in their life for [a] better future”.

EU and the Holy See

With regards to the role of the Holy See, Ambassador Koch says that "we cannot, and do not, expect their role to be one of telling us how to draft a EU budget". However, “what is important and what the Holy See and the Pope have contributed repeatedly” are very clear indications of the basis from which this sort of exercise ought to be launched.

For example, continues Ambassador Koch, “the necessity for Europeans to stay together and to be ready to support each other”, stressed by the Pope, is “exactly what our idea is as well”. Likewise “with regards to refugees: not to forget that there is also a global south which has far fewer means to deal with a crisis like this and which needs our support as well”. Just as the Holy See does, Ambassador Koch stresses that "we also agree completely" on the importance of underlining the fact that “while in the first phase of the crisis the number of people fleeing across the Mediterranean had decreased, it is at this point in time increasing”. The problem has not gone away, stresses Ambassador Koch, and as the Holy Father has repeatedly stressed, “as Europeans, we have to find better ways to deal with it”.

Finally, Ambassador Koch stresses that more multilateralism is needed to face this crisis, and that some of the institution’s multilateral structures could have worked better. “Well” concludes Ambassador Koch, “inspired by what the Holy father says: let’s make them better”.

01 July 2020, 11:45