Politics

The New German Government: No Change of Course Towards Europe

The German coalition agreement contains many empty phrases and few concrete suggestions. There is absolutely no sign of a European idea, let alone vision.

Passages such as “we will make every effort to overcome the crisis in Europe and to make a fresh start on the road to a Europe of political and economical strength and social justice… In order to carry out these tasks, the EU needs competent community institutions” sound very nice but are not underpinned by substance.  The text also contains entertaining demands such as this:

“German must in practice be put on an equal footing with the two other working languages, English and French.” Yet another victory for the provincialism of the CSU. It is significant that the coalition manages to be specific on an issue like this, whereas in other areas it remains mostly vague. The Federal President was considerably further advanced when he advocated English as the principal language in his Europe speech.

No trace of the debt redemption pact

But now to the less entertaining parts. It is apparent that the fundamental problem with the policies of the former government persists. Their understanding of the crisis is completely at odds with ours: “The European Union (EU) is experiencing a historically unprecedented period of economic, social and institutional changes and reforms.” That is a slight understatement. Apart from this, the crisis is hardly mentioned in the text and the real situation is glossed over. The excessive national debts are identified as a major cause of the current problems without any mention of the fact that it was the bank bailouts which first led to the extreme indebtedness in most of the crisis countries.

At several points in the text, the coalition agreement stresses the importance of consolidation and structural reforms for improving competitiveness. Similarly, consolidation measures are the only debt reduction instrument proposed; there is no trace of the debt redemption pact.

This passage is particularly instructive:

But the principle that each member state is responsible for its own liabilities must be upheld. Any form of communitization of national debts would jeopardize the responsible national policy necessary in every single member state. National budgetary responsibility and supranational, joint liability are incompatible. Assistance loans from European rescue programmes should only be approved as a last resort if the stability of the eurozone as a whole is under threat. We want countries in crisis to play a major part themselves in overcoming the crisis and to put in their own resources before they receive assistance loans.

These should only be approved in return for acceptance by the receiving countries of strict conditions or reforms and consolidation measures. A clear plan for ensuring their ability to service the debt is a prerequisite. Beyond this, democratic control over all forms of support is of paramount importance: ESM funds will continue to be provided only after approval by the Bundestag.” 

The social-democratic surrender

The SPD caved in very early on in the negotiations and no longer advocates joint government bonds at the European level or the European Redemption Fund proposed by the German Council of Economic Experts. Not even a tiny loophole is left open: instead, “any form of communitization of national debt” is rejected. So the fundamental problem remains unresolved, and the assurance that Germany is willing to offer support through “assistance loans and technical help” will not alter that at all.

The evolution of the ESM into a community institution and democratic control through the European Parliament are no longer on the table.

The dangerous and anti-democratic reform partnerships are featured:

“We advocate binding and enforceable, democratically legitimised contractual reform agreements between the Euro countries and the European level aimed at achieving competitiveness, solid and sustainable public finances, growth and employment combined with solidarity.”

The grand coalition has only just prevented the adoption of a more future-proof budget in Brussels, and now it is demanding a clearer prioritisation of growth, employment and innovation – not very credible.

Uncritical support for the TTIP

The conclusion of the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) free trade agreement with the USA, which Greens have strongly criticised, is to be brought forward. And that without so much as an attempt at amending it or a response to the criticism – made not only by us Greens – that the negotiations hitherto have bypassed parliaments and civil society.

It is welcome that the coalition agreement at least specifies as one if its aims the prospect of accession for all the countries of the Western Balkans. With regard to the negotiations with Turkey, however, the form of words chosen sounds like a classic drafting compromise. The accession negotiations are described as “an open-ended process” which might lead in the end to a privileged partnership.

Although the energy transition gets a mention in one paragraph, there are no really firm plans, only the suggestion that it has to be thought about in “the European context”.

Some positive proposals on social policy

The coalition wants to actively oppose further constraints emanating from the EU level on essential public services. But let’s wait to see how this stands up to the test, as the CDU/CSU has until now been one of the leaders in such constraining initiatives, as was demonstrated in the case of public water supply. If there really were to be a substantial change here, it would be a welcome development.

There are some positive proposals in the social policy area, though the wording is very vague and/or the demands sometimes amount to no more than an audit of current arrangements, for example:

  • “We support, within the framework of the European economic and social model, the development of common principles and criteria against wage dumping and social dumping in order to combat competition distortions which can also harm companies and employees in the single market.”
  • there should be an investigation into the introduction of minimum wage standards, with arrangements and definitions left to the national level
  • the social rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union should be accorded equal status with the market freedoms of the European Single Market
  • “Germany will set a good example through early implementation of the recently agreed European Youth Guarantee. A successful implementation throughout the member states will require adequate financial underpinning.”
  • employment and social indicators should be developed for the European Semester

No sign of a Convention on the treaties

The idea of discussing and making a decision about a Convention on changes needed to the treaties is absent from the coalition agreement. There is only a passing reference to “the need to amend the legal basis of the Economic and Monetary Union”. The coalition has missed an opportunity here to engage directly and specifically with the public and to strengthen the parliaments at EU and national levels. Instead, the CDU/CSU and the SPD seem to be putting their faith in backroom deals between national governments.

 

This article was written by  Anna Cavazzini and her fellow co-spokesperson of the German Green’s working group on Europe, Michael Scharfschwerdt.

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