Elections in Germany, the great European locomotive, mean the big issues of the European Union are largely being seized: this September has been a Back to school idle, with countless complex tomes on the table—financial rule reform, relations with China, negotiating an immigration package, the European Green Deal—; But many of them have been stacked or hung in the freezer awaiting election results and negotiations on forming a coalition government are now opening. There are those in the diplomatic community who are predicting these days that a new CEO is not expected to arrive in Berlin for at least two months. But the first question has already been clarified: the Social Democrats led by Olaf Scholz have won – to a minimum – and he has already announced his intention to send the CDU/CDU “into the opposition”. This assumes, from this moment, a shift in the driving forces of the European Union.
The European Socialist family came out at once to reap the fruits of the victory that changed the tones of the societal bloc, which until recently was considered dead in the European Union. “She was not dead, she was celebrating,” jokes one source of European socialism. The trend, in fact, has been going on for quite some time. There are now six EU governments with social democratic leadership (Denmark, Finland, Malta, Portugal, Sweden and Spain), three with a presence as junior partner to the executive branch (Czech Republic and Luxembourg, plus so far Germany) and one where that power is part of a broader coalition of parties (Belgium) . Schulz’s victory gives these in-laws a major boost.
Among the EU’s first sabers of support for Schulz are party colleagues, such as Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s executive vice president responsible for implementing the European Green Deal: “Congratulations on a strong Social Democratic outcome,” he wrote in a tweet shortly after learning the results. “Social justice, climate protection and the green transformation of our economy and society go hand in hand, and the election results confirm that.”
On the other hand, the European Union avoided making an official statement regarding the election result. Neither Council President Charles Michel, nor Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, nor Head of Diplomacy Josep Borrell did so. Celebrated by the Italian Socialist David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament, another key position in Brussels’ institutional balance: “After this historic crisis, there is no time to lose: Europe needs a strong and reliable partner in Berlin to continue our common work for social and green recovery Celebrate on social networks.
The messages make clear that with Schulz at the helm, the social and environmental dimension will gain renewed importance. But there are other fronts – interconnected, like almost everything today – where his arrival could change things. Camino Mortera, a researcher at the Center for European Reform, a Brussels-based think-tank, expects that “the most important impact of Schultz as the new chancellor will be in relation to tax reform in the EU”. “It is clearly less dogmatic in this sense and would probably prefer to loosen the rules of the Stability and Growth Pact a bit more.” The Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, announced two weeks ago that he would open public consultations on this tax reform “in the fall,” essentially meaning that he would wait for the outcome of the German elections.
Tense negotiations are expected in the governance debate, with countries – such as Spain – calling for and urging the “updating” of the Stability Pact to happen before deactivating the general escape clause, while others – such as the Netherlands – are willing to negotiate, but little or almost nothing. . Fellow travelers in the German executive will have the power to shape the future of the European Union. “In German elections, it is almost more important than the position of chancellor who is in the coalition,” adds researcher Mortera. It is not the same, for example, that the helm of finance rests in the hands of a socialist, green or liberal minister. Especially when one of the proposals that Brussels is dealing with to make spending rules more flexible is a kind of “golden-green rule”, that is, the possibility of member states excluding investments directed at the ecological transition from debt.
Mortera also believes that the mere fact that the leader of the CDU, Armin Laschet, is not leading the country has consequences: in relations with China, for example, he advocated “very realistic and commercial positions, in contrast to what the United States, the United Kingdom and the West in general are doing now.” “. On the other hand, Schulz’s vision is more “moderate”, making it easier for the European Union to find its place in the world, between the two economic powers on the planet.
The international leadership role that Berlin can establish from now on will be key. Brussels is in an advanced stage of its permanent and turbulent debate over the bloc’s strategic independence; Obsessions about the United States have grown, after the chaotic abandonment of Afghanistan and the poor forms of the agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which provokes Paris and thus the rest of society’s partners. . In the debate on the state of the European Union, the President of the Commission, German Ursula von der Leyen, also announced her intention to move towards common defence. It is a cocktail with many ingredients: Schulz, if he succeeds in governing, will play with the strained relations of the Atlantic, while trying to balance this with a strong response against Russia and China. Another challenge for Brussels is to tackle the complex game it is dealing with with Poland and Hungary, rebellious neighbors to the east, which have imposed checks on the rule of law and whose heart has been souring with the European Union for months. Both are paralyzed with recovery plans at the moment, the margin of which Brussels has to twist its arm.
For Eratex Garcia, head of the European Socialists’ Group in the European Parliament, it is still too early to know what might happen in Berlin. But he appreciates Schulz’s electoral victory positively: “The result is good for Europe, and therefore good for Spain.” Garcia believed that with either candidate, Angela Merkel’s pro-European streak was guaranteed. But now it is withdrawing and leaving a huge void that French President Emmanuel Macron, who heads the other great machine of the European train, is trying to capitalize on as expected. You’ll have a chance to breastfeed: In January, Paris takes over the EU’s semi-annual presidency and the country also faces elections in the spring. It is possible that Macron will direct the attention of his leadership, taking advantage of German relief, but diplomatic sources also predict that the French presidency of the European Union will be somewhat paralyzed precisely by its internal elections: with any bad gesture in Brussels, there is always the risk of amplifying the echo in home surveys.
“It’s time to expand the Franco-German front,” Eratxe Garcia picked up the gauntlet when asked about the post-Merkel era. “Today we must talk about a Franco-Spanish-German axis, which can do very well in defending the European policies that have been laid down and which we must continue to strengthen and unify.” According to the socialist, Schulz has already shown more than just displaying his service agenda during his tenure as Finance Minister in Merkel’s government. “It allowed the response to the crisis caused by the pandemic to be different from that of the past,” he says, noting the difference between the austerity stemming from Berlin and Brussels after the Great Recession of 2008 and the broadened and joint response with which the European Union faced the crisis caused by the coronavirus. . And in this area, he predicts, the path taken by Germany and possible electoral agreements will be more clear: Will the EU’s economic response to the virus be structurally preserved? Will you make more progress in debt exchange tools? Will financial rules be suspended or relaxed after 2022? The debate, in fact, has only just begun.
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