The European Union is the biggest political success story of the past 50 years. Peace and prosperity, freedom and security are achievements cherished by all EU citizens. Germany is a founding member of the organization and plays a very active role in shaping today's enlarged European Union.
The making of German government policy on Europe
Nowadays European policy covers all policy fields. To be an effective advocate of Germany’s interests in Europe, the Federal Government needs efficient policy coordination mechanisms.
The process of initiating new European legislation begins with a European Commission proposal. These proposals for regulations or directives are then deliberated, amended if necessary and finally adopted or enacted by the Council, on which member states’ governments are represented, and by the European Parliament, which is directly elected by Europe’s citizens.
An agreed German position on the individual proposals is necessary to enable the Federal Government to represent Germany’s interests in Brussels and to take a uniform stand in the various EU bodies.
Coordinating German policy on Europe
In practice the coordinating process is normally as follows: once the Commission has adopted a proposal for new legislation, the responsible (lead) ministry must ensure that the Federal Government has an agreed position on the proposal before it is debated for the first time in the Council. The lead ministry informs all other ministries affected by the new proposal and asks for their opinions. These form the basis for the Federal Government’s negotiating position in the Council.
Responsibility for coordinating the entire national opinion-formation process on a European proposal lies with the lead ministry. This ministry is responsible in particular for:
- keeping the Bundestag and the Bundesrat informed,
- involving other ministries,
- preparing negotiating documents for the Federal Government’s representatives in Brussels.
Since it is not always possible to quickly reach an agreed position on EU matters, a number of bodies exist at various levels to expedite the process and resolve any differences of opinion.
State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs
The State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs was established back in 1963 to discuss fundamental European issues. If the ministries themselves (up to director-general level) are unable to agree on major EU issues relevant to several ministries, the Committee’s task is to discuss and decide on these issues. Its role is to settle all contentious matters wherever possible so as to relieve the Cabinet of this work.
The Committee is chaired by the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office. The Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is the deputy chair. The Federal Foreign Office as a ministry is further represented by the State Secretary. The German Permanent Representative to the European Union is also a member of the Committee. The Committee generally meets once a month. The Federal Foreign Office EU Coordination Group acts as its secretariat.
The Minister of State also takes part in the section of the weekly Cabinet meetings devoted to European policy.
Directors-General for European Affairs
Below the level of the State Secretaries Committee for European Affairs, the European Affairs Directors-General from the various ministries have the task of identifying and eliminating possible differences of opinion on European issues. This group generally also meets once a month, usually between the State Secretaries Committee meetings, alternately at the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. The meetings are co chaired by representatives of the two ministries. The aims of this group are in particular to:
- raise awareness in the ministries of politically relevant and/or controversial dossiers which are soon up for decision or shortly to be submitted by the European Commission (“early warning”);
- coordinate joint positions on European policy dossiers and agree on further procedure;
- document conflicts that cannot be resolved at this level for the State Secretaries Committee so that this body can deal swiftly with such cases;
- monitor the implementation of EU directives and infringement proceedings against Germany.
Ministerial EU affairs officer
Each ministry has a Ministerial EU affairs officer, normally the head of the coordination division in the ministry’s European Affairs Directorate-General. The Ministerial EU affairs officers do not have a regular schedule, but meet ad hoc under the chairmanship of the head of the EU Coordination Group at the Federal Foreign Office. They discuss both basic issues (e.g. organization of European policy coordination, the German language in the EU) and procedural matters (e.g. preparation and follow up for meetings of the State Secretaries responsible for European affairs or involvement of the Permanent Representation in correspondence between the Federal Ministries and EU organs and offices).
An early-warning system for European policy – the EU Coordination Group
The EU Coordination Group, part of the European Directorate-General at the Federal Foreign Office, constantly analyses the opinion-formation process in the European institutions and the other EU member states, so as to identify potential conflicts at an early stage and to specify any action required. It seeks to answer the following questions:
What proposals and initiatives is the Commission planning? Could these conflict with current German legislation? Could German interests be adversely affected? Are differences of opinion between the ministries foreseeable? How can the Federal Government effectively advocate its position? Is there a danger of Germany becoming isolated during any ongoing negotiations with the other member states in the Council on EU legislative proposals? Might it be outvoted? Must Germany’s negotiating position perhaps be altered? Does the ongoing coordination between the ministries on individual EU policy proposals function smoothly or are there potential conflicts that have to be resolved?
Embassy EU Affairs Officers
German embassies are at times called upon to supplement the German Permanent Representation’s negotiating efforts by directly lobbying governments and persuading the public in the other EU member states of Germany’s aims, as well as explaining the reasons behind German positions.
These activities are coordinated or personally undertaken by the EU Affairs Officers at the embassies in the EU member states. These officers also follow the European policy “agenda” in their particular host country and report on the focuses and positions of its European policy. There are also EU Affairs Officers at Germany’s embassies in the candidate states with which accession negotiations are under way (currently Iceland, Montenegro and Turkey).
To carry out their tasks, the EU Affairs Officers need up to date, comprehensive and specific information on European policy actions from the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. The EU Coordination Group, as part of its functions, provides the Officers with that information.