“We need to exercise sound judgement in charting a path out of the pandemic”
In her speech to the Bundestag, the Federal Chancellor first addressed the pandemic situation in Europe, saying there was good reason for optimism given the decline in infections and the increase in vaccinations. With a view to the new virus variants currently emerging such as Delta, however, it was crucial to remain vigilant and exercise sound judgement in charting a path out of the pandemic, she said.
Agreement on digital COVID certificate as an important signal
The European Council will be discussing four topics relating to the pandemic, including the digital COVID certificate that is due to become mandatory across the EU as of 1 July. The agreement on this was an important signal, said the Federal Chancellor. In creating this document, the EU has established a common European standard for
providing evidence of a vaccination, test or recovery. Member states are free to decide which rights they grant to holders of the certificate. Close to 30 million such documents have been issued in Germany to date.
Vaccination is key in the fight against the pandemic
Heads of state and government are also meeting in Brussels to discuss the progress of the vaccination campaign and the global distribution of vaccines. “We know the pandemic can only be defeated at the global level – and the key to this is vaccination,” the Federal Chancellor stressed. This is why the decision taken by the G7 nations in Cornwall to distribute 2.3 billion vaccine doses to developing countries by 2022 was so important, she said.
The Federal Chancellor reiterated that the decision to jointly procure the vaccine in Europe had been the right one. “Anything else might have meant short-term benefits for certain member states, but it would have been severely disruptive to life in the single market.”
The EU is the world’s biggest exporter of vaccines
Merkel pointed out that the EU remained the world’s biggest exporter of vaccines. “We haven’t closed our markets and we haven’t put up barriers.” Germany was also the world’s second largest donor, she said, having provided funding of 1.6 billion euros for the international vaccination alliance COVAX alone. She said it was her firm belief that licensed vaccine production needed to expand, adding that she regarded politically negotiated patent approval as being the wrong way to go.
Learning lessons from the crisis
The European Council will also be discussing initial lessons to be learned from the crisis. A Communication was presented by the EU Commission on this subject last week. National efforts had determined action in the wake of the initial shock “before we adopted a coordinated approach at the Europe-wide level”, said Merkel. Now it was clear that this had to be more effective, she noted, adding that it was crucial to enhance Europe’s capacity for concerted action, especially in the areas of crisis response, health protection, Schengen and the single market.
She said that at the summit she would advocate better coordination among member states over travellers entering from third countries, especially from virus variant regions. “We have to see improvement here, especially in an area such as freedom of movement which is one of the most sensitive achievements of European unification.”
The recovery plan as an exceptional response
Another important subject will be that of economic recovery after the pandemic. Angela Merkel said that with its Next Generation EU recovery plan, the EU had demonstrated its solidarity and capacity for action. “We as the European Union came up with an exceptional response to an exceptional crisis.”
Most member states have now submitted their national recovery and resilience plans, with Germany’s gaining approval by the Commission two days ago. The Federal Chancellor urged for these national plans to be elaborated prudently and in a spirit of forward-looking innovation before funds actually are released. “After all, this is not just a matter of investing the money – it’s about making reforms, too.”
External dimension of migration
The Federal Chancellor mentioned migration as another important issue under discussion at the European Council meeting: “We mustn’t let up on the reform of the common European asylum policy and the European asylum system” – especially seeing that discussion of this subject was by no means easy. The focus at the European Council will be on cooperation with migrant countries of origin and transit. Migration partnerships needed to be established with key countries, said the Federal Chancellor.
EU cooperation with Turkey
The EU could “only solve current and upcoming migration issues in dialogue with Turkey”, said Federal Chancellor Merkel, adding that the European Commission was expected to put forward a concrete proposal for the follow-up financing of migration cooperation. In addition, the dialogue agenda with Turkey had to be tackled swiftly, she said, including modernisation of the customs union. Merkel also addressed the grave differences between the EU and Turkey in the area of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.
Jointly facing up to Russian provocation
According to Merkel, EU relations with Russia was another foreign policy topic due to come up at the European Council meeting. Events of recent months had shown that the EU needed to create mechanisms “that enabled a joint and united response to provocation,” she said.
At the same time, the Federal Chancellor stressed the need to define “an agenda of common strategic interests” in the area of climate protection, for instance, as well as peace and security. In addition, the EU had to “seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president, too”, she said, and look to establish new “formats for talks”.
Multilateral stimuli from the G7 and NATO
“The sheer multiplicity of crises worldwide means close coordination among partners is more of a necessity than ever,” said the Federal Chancellor. The G7 had the intention and the desire to “work together with China on solutions to global challenges,” she said. She also noted that Germany would have a particular role to play here in taking over the G7 Presidency next year. With regard to NATO, she emphasised that the defence alliance remained “an irreplaceable guarantee of security and stability in Europe”. “A sovereign European Union has to be a strong partner here.”
The Federal Chancellor is due to engage in discussions with EU heads of state and government in Brussels on 24 and 25 June. The agenda of the European Council meeting includes EU relations with Turkey and with Russia. Other topics include the current situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recovery and migration.