Kurt Bodewig Bundesminister a.D.

The German Presidency 2007: High Expectations and Narrow Scope


Mr Store, Mrs Ferrero-Waldner, Mrs Stubholt, Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to speak to you here today.

Each European Union Member State takes on the rotating EU Council Presidency for six months. For the first six months of 2007 it is our turn - the 12th time since the European Community was founded. And it is the third time, after 1994 and 1999, that a reunified Germany has held the EU Presidency.

Germany is the first country to hold the Presidency as part of the 18-month "Trio Presidency" with the two subsequent Presidencies, Portugal and Slovenia. The aim of the Trio Presidency is enhance the continuity of EU policies in terms of its personnel and its business.

Contrary to what some may think, holding the Presidency of the European Union does not present a country with the opportunity to push through its own national interests particularly well.

Rather, the EU President is more of an honest broker who mediates when different Member States have different interests and a moderator in the EU organs. Many of the political processes initiated under previous Presidencies have to be taken on and continued.

Expectations of the German Presidency are particularly high because of the fact that the EU is currently going through a difficult phase overall.

The fundamental problems which the German Presidency is having to tackle have been around for quite some time and they won't have been entirely solved by the end of Germany's Presidency either. They include:

  • the constitutional crisis,
  • economic and social weakness (unemployment, growth, inequality),
  • the question of enlargement (next accession countries, ability to take on new countries, Europe's boundaries, the Neighbourhood Policy and Europe's role in the world).

These three problems are closely interrelated: Economic weakness stirs up displeasure among the core Member States, which makes further enlargement impossible. The EU is losing a great deal of its aura. This was also one of the reasons why the Netherlands and France rejected the EU Treaty. The constitutional crisis severely diminishes the EU's ability to take effective action and thus presents an obstacle to far-sighted solutions to other problems.

Conversely, the temporary failure of the EU Treaty means that endorsement for the "project Europe" is declining. Approval of EU accession has in fact also recently dropped slightly in Norway too. The majority of the population is once again against joining the EU. The cause is probably, among other things, the fact that the EU Treaty has temporarily foundered.

What we need now more than anything is Sarkozy's co-operation. Berlin is pleased about the fact that he does not want to risk a second referendum on a new version of the constitution - unlike Royal would have done.

It remains to be seen whether Sarkozy does prove to be a constructive partner in Merkel's operation to save as much of the Constitution for Europe as possible. We wait with eager anticipation to see how the German-French duo will work together in future. Merkel above all has her ability to work as a quiet mediator to thank for her successes at European level. Sarkozy was elected President precisely because he likes to speak his mind. That could lead to tension and conflict!

Furthermore, Germany's Presidency of the EU comes at a time when globalisation is continuing apace; there are crisis scenarios around the world which threaten peace in unexpected ways. International terrorism means we have to find new answers; European troops are deployed in the Near and Middle East and on the Balkans. The EU is being expected to contribute more and more to maintain prosperity in a social Europe and as an international player in security matters. Those are the questions to which we have to find answers together today.

And let me make something very clear: We have to find European answers. In the loud polyphony of our globalised world we Europeans will only be heard if we speak with one voice. We can only effectively look after our own interests if we act together!

Just like all the other Presidencies before it, the German EU Presidency was also confronted with tasks which it could not choose itself. The tools and means for dealing with them have by and large been predetermined.

And yet, I would like to say that each Presidency has its compulsories and - just like in ice-skating - a free section.

As regards the compulsories: Each Presidency has to make progress on ongoing legislative proceedings and must meet deadlines. When a Presidency prepares a programme, it can also determine the order in which to accomplish its tasks. The Presidency can also determine the order in which it will deal with dossiers. In my opinion, the bi-annual rotation of the Presidency also creates the pressure to "take stock" of one's Presidency, which in turn creates pressure which speeds up the development of dossiers.

The freestyle section, by contrast, gives the Presidency the opportunity to address those issues which are not dealt with as part of the EU institution's ongoing work programme. One must remember that the freestyle is often used to satisfy ministers' and party-political interests, possibly with the help of conferences and informal meetings of ministers. Nevertheless, the Presidency is obliged to co-operate loyally with the EU and the other Member States. That naturally means that the government must exercise greater restraint when pursing its own interests than the other EU Member States do.

The European Union's 50th birthday also fell within the German EU Presidency. It is only today that we can really appreciate the far-sightedness of the founding fathers of the European Union back in 1957. Much of what sounded like pure utopia in 1957 has largely become political reality today.

Today, Europe is a continent of peace, prosperity and stability. The process of European unity - above all that meant and means peaceful coexistence. 50 years ago there was hardly anything people wanted more than that. Today it is taken for granted, and young people cannot imagine anything else.

The past also shows us that bold visions and ambitious goals have time and again driven forward the European process of integration, despite all the hard work and resistance. The EU is probably like a bicycle that cannot be brought to a standstill without running the risk of toppling over.

We are proud of what we have achieved. However, we are also aware that the EU cannot sit on its laurels if it wants to get Europeans enthusiastic about the "project Europe". Europe in 1957 was a divided continent. Today, 50 years on, we have overcome that division. People in Central and Eastern Europe are an integral part of our community. And it was above all their will to be free which made that possible.

I am sure that in many regions of the world that would be enough for people to say that the European Union is a success!

The European Union means peace and a united Europe. However, the EU is more than that: it is an internal market of nearly 500 million consumers. That means one single currency in the Eurozone. And it means the freedom of travel - from Lisbon to Helsinki.

In actual fact - let me put it to you this way today - the Internal Market comprises of the European Economic Area (EEA), that is the EU-25, plus EFTA-3. After all, the Agreement between EFTA and EU gives Norway, an EFTA state, access to the free market in the EU. At the same time Norway has undertaken to implement EU regulations in its own legislation.

The EU also means a common trade policy for its 27 Member States. It is only because we are pooling our resources that we can negotiate on an equal footing with the United States, China and India.

Even if we find it difficult sometimes, the European Union means a common European foreign policy. That means working together for peace and development across the whole world. As a Union we are taken seriously as a player on the international stage. Together we Europeans are the biggest donors of development aid worldwide; we - the EU - are part of the Middle East Quartet. We have bigger scope of action at international level if we play the European hand. That is why we want to extend that scope and that is why we need a Common Foreign and Security Policy that is truly capable of effect action!

Based on its experience in the conflicts on the Balkans and the Member States' different positions vis-à-vis the Iraq war, the European Union in December 2003 developed a Security Strategy for its Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Security and Defence Policy (CFSP/ESDP). This common political approach, plus its trade and development instruments, mean the European Union now already has considerable political clout in international relations.

Based on that, Europe can and must in future contribute more to peaceful conflict-prevention and conflict-resolution worldwide, to put international relations on a legal footing, to control the arms race multilaterally, and to disarm, to push through general human rights, and to fight hunger and poverty worldwide. Europe's foreign policy must be based on a very broad definition of peace and security. Peace is more than the mere absence of war.

The German Presidency has pledged to develop an ambitious and sophisticated European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The focus here is on Eastern European countries, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, as well as Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan in the Southern Caucasus. The German EU Presidency is looking East. And not only out of an immediate necessity. It also has something to do with the fact that Germany, because of its location, its history and its more recent policies, has wide-ranging and intensive relations with Eastern Europe. The Portuguese Presidency which follows ours will focus more on the Mediterranean region.

The goal of an efficient Neighbourhood Policy is to offer countries an alternative to accession. In order to do better and more sustainable justice to Europe's interest in stability and socio-economic modernisation and democratisation in its neighbouring countries, the ENP also needs to be improved at conceptual level. We need to put some more effort into that!

In addition, the EU has also decided to put relations to countries in the southern Mediterranean region and the Near East under one roof, namely that of the ENP.

The ENP incorporates the three main interests the EU is pursuing in the Black Sea region: consolidation of democratic states, security, and security of energy supply.

The EU has decided not to put its own interests on a back burner, as it has done in the past, out of consideration for good trade relations with Russia. On 11 April 2007 the Commission put forward its multilateral concept, the "Black Sea Synergy", in addition to and to strengthen the previously bilateral concepts put into effect in the Black Sea region. It takes up the sectoral programmes and initiatives and develops them further. The Commission promises that neighbouring regions will be able to take part in relevant measures "if their topics are closely related to one or other topics in these regions". The link between the Black Sea region and Central Asia is expressly mentioned in that context.

I will welcome it if the European Council adopts the Commission document in June.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am nearing the end of my speech. Even now, six weeks before the end of the Presidency, we can draw a positive conclusion: The German Presidency has a good grasp of day-to-day business, nothing has gone wrong. The German Presidency has managed two big projects which no-one would have reckoned with, namely agreement on the climate debate and the Berlin Declaration. We still have a tough nut to crack, though: We have to address the matter of the Constitution at the Summit in June.

After all, it is THE main task of the German EU Presidency to get the European constitutional process back on track after it was derailed due to the rejection of the Constitution in France and the Netherlands. Our position is unequivocal: the political substance of the Constitution, which two thirds of the EU Member States support, must remain as it is. However, the Constitution has to be changed to such an extent that it is acceptable for all. It would be a huge success if at the end of the German Presidency we could agree on where we are heading, how we want to get there and the timeframe within which to tackle the constitutional process once more.

The Presidency is always a bit like a European Football Championship: a good opportunity to show off one's country, its people and what the country is capable of achieving. But it is also a nice opportunity to bring Europe that little bit closer to one's own citizens. And at this point we can already say that the German press has reported on Europe more often, even the smaller local papers which don't normally do so. Politicians are tackling the issue of Europe more than before, they are addressing the issue in their constituencies more than before, and parties are talking about it more with their party members. Presumably, work colleagues and friends are discussing it more often. The EU Presidency is not only a good opportunity for our country to drive Europe forward and to bring it one more step closer to the future, it is also a chance to bring Europe closer to its people, to make it tangible and visible. If we manage to do both these things, then the German EU Presidency in 2007 will have been a good Presidency!

I would like to say a few personal words to you here in Norway: Norway is a co-operative and excellent partner for us in the EU. We co-operate closely in many areas.

Norway shares the opinions and interests of the EU in many areas of international politics and works closely with the EU in the area of foreign and security policy. It was only late last October that Norway and the EU signed an agreement for the better monitoring and control of fishing.

"What about Norway's accession to the EU?" I am often asked. What other countries in Europe pray for and ask for, Norway has said "no" to in two referenda. A "no", despite the parliament and the government recommending a "yes". Although you are not part of the EU, you are Europeans. You are a part of Europe!

Since the EU and EFTA signed their agreement in 1994, Norway has been helping to finance weaker regions in the EU. This regulation has been considerably expanded following enlargement. Norway, a non-EU country, is the ninth-biggest net donor and the second-biggest per capita donor, contributing around 226 million euros each year.

And you don't want to join us? Thank you for attention.