Germany takes over pandemic-era EU presidency as China tests unity

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HOURS after Germany assumed the European Union’s (EU’s) rotating presidency, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that China’s treatment of Hong Kong could become the bloc’s first test under Berlin’s watch.

Maas called developments in Hong Kong “exceptionally worrying” and said China had gone against its word by passing a national security law widely seen as an affront on the territory’s high degree of autonomy.

“With regards to China, the important thing is that we act as Europeans rather than everyone going their own way,” Maas said in an interview with the ZDF public broadcaster early on Wednesday.

“This is one of the examples that shows that … we only have a chance to assert our interests and our values if we do this as Europeans,” he said.

Individual responses from countries would not be strong enough, Germany’s top diplomat added.

China “will potentially pose the first test” as Germany seeks a unified EU approach to global power struggles, Maas said.

Germany will head the European Council for six months as of Wednesday.

It also took over the one-month rotating presidency of the UN Security Council on the same day.

While Germany had initially planned to focus on EU border security, relations with China and climate change during its EU presidency, the coronavirus pandemic has forced the trade giant to pivot toward measures to contain the virus and ensure the EU’s economic recovery.

According to a Munich Security Conference report, the pandemic has made clear that Germany has to push for a more integrated approach within the EU.

“The sheer magnitude of (the pandemic’s) economic and political repercussions means that European leaders cannot simply resort to their usual mode of piecemeal and technocratic crisis management,” the body said.

One of first challenges of Germany’s EU presidency will be to oversee the passing of the bloc’s seven-year financial framework.

EU diplomats hope for this to happen in July, but disagreements on what this should look like run deep in the trade bloc, and negotiations look set to continue being difficult.

In his comments to ZDF, Maas said it was essential to act quickly to allow funds to start flowing to support struggling economies.

“It is important that countries such as Italy or Spain, which were hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis, can now get this money quickly,” he said.

Holding the EU presidency does not carry any formal power, but it is of political importance, as it will allow Germany to shape the bloc’s agenda for the coming months.

Taking over from Croatia, Germany will organise and preside over meetings between EU heads of governments and ministers under the motto “Together for Europe’s recovery.”

On Jan. 1, Portugal will take over from Germany.

Germany will also have a decisive role in the post-Brexit trade negotiations with Britain, with the EU’s trade rules ceasing to apply to the departed member state on Jan. 1, 2021.

For Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU and UN presidencies give her the chance for a final flourish in international politics before she retires from politics at the end of her fourth term next year.

NAN

– July 01, 2020 @ 14:45 GMT

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