Verhofstadt: Germany finally has a government ready to lead Europe without “Merkel’s brake”

  • The new coalition in Germany gives hope that the country will lead changes in Europe as the continent emerges from a stagnation, writes the author
  • Verhofstadt: In most European capitals, the debate has recently become more constructive, while the governments that have spoiled the Union – Poland and Hungary – have ended up isolating themselves
  • Coalition agenda calls on the European Council to “apply and further develop” a range of rule of law instruments against governments that violate EU values
  • Verhofstadt criticizes the coalition for announcing the imminent end of the policy of joint financing of large EU projects through the common debt of the member states
  • And he adds that the coalition wants to “further develop a federal European state”, a declaration that goes further than any other German government to date.

Original article on POLITICO.eu website

They say that Europe is born of crisis situations. This is a cliché, but it has turned out to be untrue over the last decade.

As the world was shaken over and over again, the current institutions and political decisions of the European Union were unable to deal with them, and European politics simply continued as before. Our leaders seemed unable or unwilling to lead Europe.

Now that all may change. The new German coalition may be the last missing piece needed to reverse the direction on the continent.

France, in the person of Emmanuel Macron, already has an extremely “European” president who has important elections ahead of him, and from January he will be in charge of the presidency of the Council of the European Union.

In the person of Mario Draghi, Italy received a very capable prime minister who has unhesitatingly subordinated his political survival to dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and EU reconstruction funds dedicated to fighting its economic repercussions.

In most European capitals, the debate has become more constructive, while the governments that have spoiled the Union – Poland and Hungary – have ended up isolating themselves.

Hope in Germany

And now in Germany there is a government that wants to lead Europe – and how!

The German coalition agreement, Koalitionsvertrag, at times sounds not like a poor compromise, but like a party’s pre-election manifesto – and that of the party I would vote for.

The agreement is clear on the foundations: it speaks of “its vision of a European Germany” which is “embedded in the historic project of peace and freedom that is the European Union”.

Germany’s goal is “a sovereign Union as a strong player in a world shaped by uncertainty and competing political systems.” As a large member state, their role and responsibilities go beyond what is purely national “for the Union as a whole”.

It is a break with the recent past where the reasoning was that “what’s good for Germany is good for Europe” and little else.

These new words have meaning, which is clearly visible in the coalition’s position on the rule of law: “we want to effectively support the values”, enshrined in Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union. The coalition calls on the Commission to use existing rule of law mechanisms “more rapidly and consistently” and on the European Council to “apply and further develop” the entire range of rule of law instruments – right up to the use of Art. 7, which could suspend the voting rights of governments that violate EU values.

In short, the “Merkel brake”, which has always slowed down and stopped all EU action against the attacks by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán or Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski on their countries’ democratic institutions, has now been turned off.

There are also creaks

But not everything sounds like music to my ears. Germany can finally commit to better investment, new business creation and leadership in the green transition, but the announcement that it will not continue the Commission’s reconstruction and resilience instrument, the Reconstruction Fund, is a mistake. The current crisis is not going to end any time soon and financing the recovery program with Eurobonds is exactly the paradigm shift that Europe needed.

The way we finance the EU budget – that is, through national contributions – is a recipe for a catastrophe. By definition, it leads to bitter fights between governments and automatically causes funds to return primarily to national projects.

Economically as well as politically, the Union’s finances are illogical and the opposite of being “European”. Adopting the logic and ambition of the remainder of the coalition agreement would rather lead to some sort of revision of the fund, but certainly not to its halt.

The new government wants deeper integration of the Union

It is important, however, that the new German government is willing to hold a wider debate.

It strongly emphasizes the need for further reforms at the Conference on the Future of Europe and supports the proposed treaty changes that could result from its provisions. The stated intention that “the conference will end with a constitutional convention and the further development of a federal European state” goes further than any other German government to date.

The new Germany wants to strengthen the community method, but it will act on the basis of the main groups of states if necessary. They will fight for a stronger Parliament, with the right of initiative de facto, if not de jure. They commit to introducing a single European electoral law with partially transnational lists and a binding system of Spitzenkandidaten – lead candidates for the president of the European Commission.

The balance in this agreement is commendable and promising. In today’s world, a stronger Europe is necessary and a more democratic Europe is the necessary result. And with Olaf Scholz as Chancellor, it will be extremely interesting to see a new generation of political stars finally lining up.

The problems of the real world are thus not any less. But perhaps, soon, eventually, Europe’s greatest weakness will cease to be the politicians at its head.

Guy Verhofstadt is an MEP, former leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and former Prime Minister of Belgium

Editing: Michał Broniatowski

About Banner Leon

Videogames entered his life in the late '80s, at the time of the first meeting with Super Mario Bros, and even today they make it a permanent part, after almost 30 years. Pros and defects: he manages to finish Super Mario Bros in less than 5 minutes but he has never finished Final Fight with a credit ... he's still trying.

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