Rising vaccination and falling infection figures as well as the first (almost) regular European Council in Porto give hope for the fight against the pandemic. Nevertheless, the European Union is not lacking for challenges. Both the German and the Portuguese Council Presidencies had to face these. Issue 1/21 of integration takes stock of this and looks ahead.
Katrin Böttger and Mathias Jopp explain how the German Federal Government was able to successfully meet the high expectations of its Council Presidency in the second half of 2020 and reach compromises on major projects such as the Multiannual Financial Framework or the agreements with the United Kingdom and China. The task of the subsequent Portuguese Presidency is now to implement the decisions and also to address those issues that could not be tackled in the last half of 2020, explains Minna Ålander. In her forum contribution, she shows the possibilities Portugal has to set its own priorities. Vittoria Meißner et al. draw conclusions from the drastic pandemic experience for the EU’s future resilience and agency, both internally and externally in the face of global challenges. The COVID 19 pandemic was also decisive in the agreement on rule-of-law conditionality in the distribution of EU funds. It gave the issue new urgency and opened a “window of opportunity”, as Ellen Bos and Kristina Kurz discuss in their contribution. Florian Trauner analyses in his article the asylum and migration package presented by the Commission and sets out the idea and functioning of the new approach of “mandatory but flexible solidarity”.
The German EU Presidency 2020: Selective Federalisation of the Integration Process
Katrin Böttger and Mathias Jopp
This article analyses the most important issues and decisions of the German EU Council Presidency, but also its “leftovers”. Almost beyond expectations, the German Government proved to be a successful mediator and honest broker for viable compromises in a number of conflicting areas. Hence, it was possible in the second half of 2020 to resolve complex EU financing issues, prevent a no-deal Brexit through a trade agreement with the United Kingdom, conclude an investment agreement with China and achieve the adoption of a rule of law mechanism against corruption and clientele economy in the use of EU funds by national actors. During the German Presidency, once again in European integration, a centralization of important tasks at the Brussels level can be identified, combined with a partial strengthening of supranational institutions.
Introducing a Rule of Law Conditionality in the European Union: the Coronavirus Crisis as a Window of Opportunity
Ellen Bos and Kristina Kurze
The problem of democratic backsliding as well as instruments to protect the rule of law have been acknowledged at the EU level for several years. However, no agreement on the introduction of a rule of law conditionality could be reached among the EU member states until the European Council summit in December 2020. Now, for the first time, the allocation of EU funds to member states is made conditional on the adherence to rule of law principles. To explain how this far-reaching decision became possible despite the persistence of deeply diverging interests between the member states, the article draws on the multiple streams framework. More precisely, it is argued that the coronavirus crisis created an unpredictable window of opportunity which was successfully utilised to put the existing proposal for a rule of law mechanism on the agenda again and to finally reach an agreement on a respective regulation.
The New EU Migration and Asylum Pact: Will it Lead to More Solidarity between Member States?
This article analyses the concept of compulsory but flexible “solidarity” within the new migration and asylum pact of the European Union (EU). Presented by the European Commission in September 2020, the pact interlinks EU asylum and return policy in an unprecedented manner. If a government rejects the resettlement of asylum seekers within Europe, it can take responsibility for the return of irregular migrants. The political momentum appears more favourable for the adoption of this proposal compared to previous reform efforts. The operational implementation of the Commission’s plans will depend on whether the EU manages to persuade third countries to cooperate more closely. If this does not succeed, the EU internal conflicts on distribution and responsibility-sharing are likely to persist – and may no longer only affect the relocation of asylum seekers, but also the resettlement of persons to be returned within the EU.
2020 as a Stress Test for the European Union: Challenges in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Vittoria Meißner, Juha Jokela, Funda Tekin, Niklas Helwig, Marco Siddi and Tyyne Karjalainen
The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply shaken the European Union (EU) and exacerbated existing problems. How can the EU gain more autonomy in an ever-changing world order, especially when it comes to international supply chains and health security? To what extent can EU member states reconcile their aspiration to build European sovereignty with their efforts to forge multilateralism? What does European resilience mean and what specific actions does the EU need to take in order to strengthen it? How can the EU’s green goals be achieved in times of the COVID-19 pandemic? In this paper, the authors examine the crisis year 2020 in order to present approaches and solutions to tackle these challenges from the perspective of Germany as well as the Nordic and Baltic states.
The Portuguese EU Council Presidency: Budget, Brexit, Biden, and Other Challenges
On 1 January 2021, Portugal took over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the fourth time. The preceding German Presidency was able to broker agreements on crucial topics such as the EU budget, Brexit and the new EU climate goal. Nevertheless, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Portuguese Presidency is facing major challenges. History repeats itself as the German-Portuguese-Slovenian Trio Presidency again takes over at a time of crisis. Similarly to the trio’s last presidencies in 2007/2008, Portugal has again the responsibility to ensure a quick and smooth implementation of the decisions taken under the German Presidency.