Speech by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU to the European Committee of the Regions on 13 October 2020 (videoconference)

Source: German presidency of the EU (German presidency) i, published on Tuesday, October 13 2020.

President Apostolos Tzitzikostas,

Members of the European Committee of the Regions,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Greetings to all of you in Brussels as well as in the regions and cities.

Germany is holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of this year. We can state that this is a Council Presidency that is taking place in an exceptional situation. The COVID-19 pandemic is making us face challenges at all levels - in Europe, in the member states, in the regions and in the municipalities. Allow me to be very candid when I say that I’m observing the number of infections, which are rising once again in almost all parts of Europe, with great concern. Many people have lost their lives. So I must say that the situation continues to be very serious.

We must not forfeit what we have achieved thanks to restrictions in recent months. None of us found these restrictions easy. It’s therefore all the more important to ensure that another lockdown won’t be necessary and to avoid our healthcare systems reaching their limit once again. We must show that we have learned our lesson. And we must ask people in Europe to be careful, to abide by the rules, keep their distance, wear face masks and to do what we can in order to contain the spread of the virus and safeguard our economic activities nonetheless.

As elected officials, you are aware of the challenges in your regions - in hospitals and care homes, in schools and kindergartens, in companies and also in public places. Many of you are likewise aware of the challenge that these infection control measures can pose to a Europe without borders - for people who commute to a neighbouring country for work, for the cross-border cooperation of authorities and for relations between our societies.

Ladies and gentlemen, your perspectives on Europe, your experiences and commitment are what Europe needs in order to get through this difficult time in a spirit of solidarity and to assume responsibility in your regions. Without you, we can have only a limited impact as Heads of State and Government - and we can have just as limited an impact without the citizens of Europe. This is why I want to thank all those who assume responsibility in the municipalities and regions.

Crisis management is a herculean task that we can accomplish all the better if we in Europe all pull in the same direction. It was therefore extremely important to put together a comprehensive package in order to contain the economic and social impact of the pandemic. This is what both European credit and funding programmes as well as the decisions of the European Council on the multiannual financial framework and the recovery instrument with a total volume of 1.8 trillion euro aim to achieve. We believe - and I’m also fully convinced of this myself - that such an exceptional situation also calls for exceptional measures.

But now it is also vital to get this package under way so that the funds can actually be deployed from the beginning of 2021. We are working flat out to achieve an agreement with the European Parliament in this context. Moreover, we need to ratify the Own Resources Decision in each and every member state, i.e. for the funds from the Recovery Fund. Allow me to request also your support for this in the regions.

This isn’t just a question of short-term crisis management, but is also about preparing for the future - this is about Europe’s capacity to tap into new economic opportunities, thereby becoming less crisis-prone and creating more jobs. We must, to this end, make progress also with regard to major tasks such as climate protection and the digital transformation. Both of these are priorities of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Europe’s competitiveness will increasingly depend on the extent to which we manage to achieve greater digital sovereignty and to strengthen our single market also in this regard. The single market is the essential foundation for Europe’s economic success and for each and every member state. But, as former Commission President Jacques Delors once pointed out, “nobody can fall in love with the single market”. This is why people must always be at the centre of all discussions on the digital transformation as well as the further development of the internal market. It is precisely this that sets our European economic and social model apart, namely the fact that we think of economic and social affairs as being two sides of the same coin. But not everyone around the world shares our way of living and working, of course. And that’s why we Europeans must tread our own path with confidence also with respect to the digital transformation in particular.

Climate protection is a similar story. I told the European Parliament in July and I wish to reiterate this once again here that I believe that a global solution to climate change will be successful above all if Europe plays a pioneering role. We will address Europe’s climate change goals at the European Council in two days’ time. On behalf of the German Government, I can say that we support the Commission’s proposal to reduce emissions by at least 55 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030. Moreover, we’re working to achieve agreement in the Council regarding a European Climate Law - before the year is out, if possible.

We want to make progress also in European asylum and migration policy during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. It’s clear that we Europeans must do more to live up to our humanitarian ideals, also with Moria in mind. A common migration policy is therefore vitally important. The fact that we haven’t been able to find a common way forward on this to date is a heavy burden for Europe. I therefore consider the Commission's proposal for a new pact on asylum and migration to be worth discussing. The ability to compromise is called for against the backdrop of different interests. Each member state will have to do its part to achieve a fair solution.

This period will also witness an important decision regarding our future relationship with the UK. Wide-ranging relations, and not least also countless city twinning partnerships show that an agreement is in everyone’s interests. The EU is united in its efforts to achieve this in the short time remaining. But we must also prepare ourselves for the eventuality that no agreement will be reached.

While these and other challenges are so very diverse, they have one thing in common, ladies and gentlemen. In order to overcome them, we need a strong Europe - a Europe with institutions that cooperate well, and a Europe with member states whose strength emerges precisely from decentralised structures, which do justice to the different situations in the regions, cities and municipalities.

Subsidiarity in action and European achievements such as freedom of movement and the freedoms of the internal market and the Schengen area stand us in good stead also in terms of coping with the pandemic. We need only think of the admission of patients from other EU countries or the supply of critical goods such as protective equipment and medicines.

However, we have witnessed that European cooperation also has its limits. I also say this with a measure of self-criticism. Looking back, we must admit that we concentrated too much on fighting the outbreak in our own countries, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic. But this experience teaches us once again that we need each other. We need close European cooperation in order to overcome major challenges. This can only be achieved together with members of the public and not over their heads.

The Conference on the Future of Europe will offer an excellent opportunity for us to discuss how we want to shape Europe together. We want - if the pandemic allows us to do so - to get the conference under way still during Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, thereby lending weight to our motto: “Together for Europe’s recovery.”

Thank you very much. I’m now looking forward to hearing your contributions.

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On this topic

German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the European Committee of Regions: Cohesion, recovery and sustainability are on the agendaInternal link

On 13 October, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will virtually meet with local and regional leaders from all EU member states to discuss the goals of the German Presidency of the Council of the EU.