In the middle of one of the most serious economic crises in the European Community, the EU Council Presidency changes. After Croatia, Germany is now taking over the Presidency for the next six months.
In a video conference of the College of Commissioners at the beginning of the German EU Presidency, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, stressed that the start of the German Presidency came at a crucial time, as the next six months would largely determine the future of the EU. "We not only have to overcome the crisis, but we also want and must courageously continue along the path of modernisation within the European Union", she said at the press conference following the meeting. "The main challenges facing Europe before the crisis will remain the same after the crisis is over: climate change, digitalisation and Europe's place in the world." Recalling the urgency of the task of reaching agreement in the European Council on Next Generation EU and the EU's long-term budget, she said it is the crisis that "sets the pace [...]. Every day we lose, we see people losing their jobs, businesses going bust and our economies weakening".
Next Generation EU is a €750 billion funding programme aimed at getting Europe back on its feet. It is the first time in the EU's history that the Commission plans to borrow money on the financial markets. The plan calls for €500 billion to be spent in the form of grants, which means Member States will not have to pay it back, unlike the remaining €250 billion, which will be given in the form of loans.
Von der Leyen also noted at the press conference that the priorities of the German Presidency and the priority projects adopted by the Commission are fully in line - from climate change to digitisation and resilience.
Looking at the German national economic stimulus package, a clear green focus can be seen. It does not provide for premiums for diesel and petrol vehicles, it invests in batteries, e-charging, railways and energy-efficient buildings. Such a green focus can also be found in the programme of the German EU Council Presidency:
"In the EU, crises have always been an opportunity to question the status quo and to prepare even better for the future. Our joint task goes far beyond the immediate management of the current situation. To do so, we must focus our attention on the major transformation processes of our time, such as climate change, digitalisation or the transformation of the world of work. In a world of increasing polarisation, European policy must also strengthen Europe's ability to act externally in order to defend European interests and assume our responsibility in the world. We advocate a rule- and human rights-based international order and want Europe to help shape standards and norms worldwide".
Mobility and Transport
The centrality of mobility and the transformation of transport in Europe are also highlighted in the German programme. The restoration of European fundamental freedoms is particularly important. For example, Germany intends to work towards the gradual lifting of Coronarelated restrictions in the Schengen area, taking into account the epidemiological situation. The crisis-related restrictions on cross-border traffic and on the internal market are also to be lifted gradually in a coordinated manner in order to create the conditions for economic recovery.
According to the German programme, the mobility of the future must be sustainable, innovative and connected. As the Commission also emphasised in its Green Deal, a balance must be achieved between solving ecological challenges and ensuring the competitiveness of the European transport sector. Similarly, orientation for the EU strategy for sustainable and intelligent mobility announced by the Commission should be worked out and negotiations on legislative projects in individual transport sectors should be advanced.
Data sharing, including in the transport sector, is also listed as a priority. It is emphasised that the protection of personal data, data sovereignty and consumer protection law must be guaranteed at all times. For the sovereignty of citizens, they must be able to store data on their terminal equipment securely and free from third-party access. To this end, the legal prerequisites should be created so that secure storage options, so-called standardised secure elements, are available in all terminal devices.
Although there is no mention of electromobility or alternative fuels, knowledge, research and education are seen as key drivers of European innovation and competitiveness and as the key to successful implementation of the European Green Deal. The further development of the European Research Area should also be used to promote green hydrogen.