In an exchange of views on the priorities of Germany's presidency with the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, the EESC said it applauds its highly ambitious goals and is ready to join forces
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) will fully support the efforts of Germany's presidency of the Council of the EU to lead Europe on the path towards recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 crisis and will do its share to help build a better and more resilient Union that is accountable to its citizens.
The priorities of Germany's presidency - its thirteenth since the signing of the Treaties of Rome and probably the most challenging so far - were presented by the German Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier who addressed the EESC plenary session via video link.
Extending a warm welcome to Mr Altmaier, the EESC president Luca Jahier said that in this unprecedented crisis, when all eyes are on Germany's presidency but also on the EU, the EESC can be counted upon to be an active and committed partner.
The stakes could not be higher, but so are the expectations that Germany's presidency will broker a consensus on managing the pandemic and its consequences while making Europe more resilient and future-proof. You can count on us: the EESC will do its share under Germany's presidency motto "Together for Europe's recovery", which summarises the vision of the EU acting for the benefit of its citizens, said Mr Jahier.
Germany, which took over from Croatia at the helm of the Council of the EU on 1 July, unveiled a programme that will focus directly on overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and shaping the EU's economic and social recovery.
The German minister told the plenary that
We all realise that we can only really effectively fight this pandemic by working together. We can only hope to be successful if the EU and its Member States stick together, if we show solidarity towards the weaker, if we refuse to allow ourselves to be divided. This is why dealing with this crisis is our key priority. We want to ensure that there will be real solidarity for our citizens and that they can see it and feel it for themselves.
The quick adoption of a revamped and ambitious Multiannual Financial Framework and the Next Generation Recovery Plan proposed by the Commission to respond to the social and economic fallout of the pandemic would be the first step in this direction. In Mr Altmaier's view, it would show that the goal is to make help available as soon as possible and to tackle the deepest crisis our economies have suffered in our lifetime.
Mr Jahier said that the EESC pins high hopes on Germany's leadership to help reach a good and strong compromise on the strengthened EU budget, eliminating the risk of backsliding on the ambition and determination demonstrated by the EU in the last few months.
Apart from the negotiations on the MFF, Germany is expected to deliver on other pressing issues too, such as climate protection and the European Green Deal, the digital transformation, the rule of law and Europe's role in the world. The EU's future relationship with the United Kingdom should also be determined during Germany's term of office.
Mr Altmaier said Germany's presidency will attach great importance to making Europe's industry and economy greener, while at the same time keeping up a high level of industrial activity and remaining industrially competitive on world markets.
We believe that the Green Deal needs a green economy, and we have to be able to show that we can transform our economy and industry. We want our presidency to help make climate neutrality a reality by 2050, he stressed.
Germany's presidency also wants to focus on strengthening and consolidating the European internal market and on future-oriented sectors such as digitalisation and bio-technology. It will look into keeping European markets open, encouraging healthy competition and improving the resilience of European supply chains.
The EESC will be working with Germany's presidency in a number of areas and has already been asked to produce 10 opinions on topics including the platform economy, sustainable supply chains and decent work in international trade, non-profit social enterprises and their potential for a socially equitable Europe, digitalisation and sustainability.
Stressing that dialogue between civil society and policy makers is a key part of the recovery process as well as of the efforts to build a resilient and better EU, Mr Jahier voiced his satisfaction with the fact that one of the priorities of Germany's presidency is to reach an agreement on the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Shaping the future of our Union should also involve the Union's citizens. We need to build a better and more efficient Union for our citizens and the best way to achieve this is by listening to what they have to say,said Mr Jahier.
The EESC sees the Conference on the Future of Europe as a key priority and is expected to play a strategic and pivotal role in it. Originally planned to take place during Croatia's presidency, the Conference was delayed due to the pandemic. Proposed by Germany and France, it is envisaged as a major democratic exercise where EU citizens will be asked to debate key priorities and challenges, with the objective of addressing shortcomings in the EU's governance and defining a direction for Europe's future.
During the debate with the German minister, EESC members said rapid adoption of the revamped long-term EU budget could prove crucial in determining the EU's future. Migration and other pressing issues were also discussed.
The acting president of the EESC Employers' Group, Stefano Mallia said:
We are convinced that the priorities of Germany's presidency of the Council of the EU are well chosen to tackle the current challenges, such as the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, Brexit and further integration of the Single Market. The Recovery Fund proposed by France and Germany is precisely the bold and forward-looking approach we need to kick-start the European economy. We need extraordinary, unprecedented economic measures and real, unconditional European unity for the next EU budget. There is no doubt that how strongly we agree on the MFF and the Recovery Fund in the days and weeks to come will determine whether the EU emerges stronger from the COVID-19 crisis or not.
Speaking on behalf of the EESC Workers' Group, its president Oliver Röpke said that Europe's workers will do their best to contribute to the success of Germany's presidency and stressed that having an ambitious recovery fund was
The coming weeks and months will be paramount in setting Europe's course out of this unprecedented crisis, which requires a special level of solidarity. Having grants and not only loans in the recovery fund would be crucial and if done properly, this agreement will be an investment in the future. We have to do everything in our power to make sure that the next recovery plan and budget help reduce inequalities and disparities between Member States.
Arno Metzler, president of the EESC's Diversity Europe Group, which represents civil society organisations, said:
We in the civil society believe that the migration problem has to be dealt with at its place of origin, it has to be dealt with at the root of the problem and we are ready to push for regional and local partnership to include the power and creativity of civil society in these efforts.