2006-12-29 Kyle James
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Will Germany put an end to the EU's institutional deadlock?

Official logo of German EU presidencyOfficial logo of German EU presidency
On January 1, Germany takes over the rotating EU presidency from Finland. It's a six-month time at the helm, not a lot of time to tackle big issues. But there are a lot of expectations riding on Germany. Many in the EU are looking for Berlin to restart an EU motor that has been sputtering since last year's rejection by voters in France and the Netherlands of the proposed EU Constitution. There are many other sensitive issues on the agenda: energy, Russia, climate change, the Middle East... German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks like she will need to maneuver carefully through a diplomatic minefield.

"There are so many pressing issues on EU agenda, internal working, constitution issues, the economic issues, research, education, plus the pressure put on EU by globalization."

That's Jan Techau of the German Council on Foreign Relations. He says the EU has high expectations for the German presidency, since for some time now, the bloc has been basically spinning its wheels.

"There's so much to be done and for past 12 months basically what we've been doing is discussing the constitution and naval gazing."

Jan TechauJan Techau
The list of issues Germany wants to tackle from January to June is long. Most talked about these days is the EU constitution, which went down to defeat after French and Dutch voters said No in referendums back in 2005. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she wants to formulate a "road map" for an EU treaty that can be approved by all members. Not an easy task, says Techau.

"It's probably the most difficult political problem on the internal EU frontier really. It is certainly the issue against which the success of the German presidency will be judged.

Merkel will also have to look at new agreements with Russia, including on topics as sensitive as energy. Tackling climate change will he on the list, even though Germany has had dispute with Brussels over its own emissions targets. Then there is foreign policy, and the task of presenting a unified front, even as the EU expands even further. Romania and Bulgaria are coming on board in January. And there's the economy, which Merkel addressed in a speech before the German parliament.

Because if we aren't strong economically and can't give people hope for the future, the European Union won't be a strong player internationally. Success in Brussels means that the member states have to be strong as well. The two things belong together."

Germany has also said it wants to kick-start the Middle East peace process. It wants the EU to be part of a quartet of mediators that also includes the US, the UN the Russia. But so far its efforts in that arena, such as engaging Syria, have fallen flat and even been criticized by allies. And despite the best-laid plans, everything could change if some unexpected crisis comes up. That's what happened to the Finnish presidency, says Jan Techau. It was hit in the face by the Lebanon crisis, which occupied it for a good portion of its own short time at the helm.

Will The German presidency bring resolution to long-term problems of EU?Will The German presidency bring resolution to long-term problems of EU?
The German presidency is only six months. It is a very short period of time to really change things and give a strong political impulse in the direction of strategic resolution of long-term problems. Expectations are high and time is short.

And German has been working hard to play down those expectations--perhaps not wanting to disappoint. But Techau says despite the high bar, the EU presidency, and Germany's 2007 presidency of the G8 nations, could be a chance for the country to make a strong mark internationally.

Germany is still growing up foreign policy wise. It has only regained it full sovereignty 16 years ago, and for 40 years, used to playing second fiddle internationally. It is my hope that the two presidencies will help Germany find its proper role in the international community. It's fantastic national endeavour.

If not a difficult one. Germany's time could also be made more difficult due to the fact that several other EU countries have weak or transitional governments. Major player France has presidential elections coming up. There, the focus will be on national politics and EU issues relegated firmly to the back burner. Still, EU Commission President Jose Borroso seems to think if anyone can pull it off, Angela Merkel can. He told a German newspaper she might even be the J├╝rgen Klinsmann of EU politics. He's referring of course to the coach of the German national soccer team, who took what was considered a mediocre team and led them all the way to third place in last summer's World Cup.

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