Thursday 28 November 2013

A Strong Europe?: What the Grand Coalition has in store

Two months after the German elections the Grand Coalition deal between Merkel's CDU (and their sister party, the CSU) and the SPD has been signed. It's not a done deal until the SPD membership has endorsed the coalition treaty, and there is some resistance to it given their anti-Merkel election campaign and the frequency with which Merkel's coalition partners have the political life sucked from them. Still, the SPD leadership are likely to have their way, and with a membership vote on the deal the coalition will have a firm foundation for the next 4 years.

The headline policies, such as the minimum wage and reduced pension age (SPD) and road tolls for foreigners (CSU) have tended to be driven by the junior partners of the coalition. It's been suggested that the leadership style of Merkel's CDU (focusing on her leadership rather than policy) may have worked well in the campaign, but was a weakness when it came to coalition negotiations. So how is Germany's Europe policy shaping up?

The coalition agreement can be read here (PDF - in German), with the European policy at pp.15, 156-167.

Eurozone and the Single Market

The big one and, despite the hopes that the SPD may have moderated the austerity-centric policy, there is really no change here. In fact the strongly conservative tone is startling - there's plenty of talk about reducing debt and deficits and working on competitiveness, but when you turn to the "social Europe" section the rhetoric is pretty much repeated: austerity is the only way to ensure a social Europe seems to be the message.

On banking union there is little new. Yes, there must be banking union, and, yes, private banking debt must be separated from public debt (with banks taking the hit first). However the deal underlines that releasing funds under the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) or otherwise will remain subject to a vote by the Bundestag and emergency credit lines are a last resort only. The agreement both stresses that there will be no common liability at the European level since budgets are a national competence, and that budgets must be effectively overseen and co-ordinated at the European level. (It appears that the joined-up thinking demanded of Brussels has not similarly been applied here...). The SPD's leanings towards Eurobonds have apparently been stamped out altogether for the purposes of coalition.

On the future of emergency credit and the "reform contracts" that are supposed to accompany them, the German government supports the contract idea, though such deals must be "democratically legitimised". Presumably this means that the national parliament of the bail-outee will have to ratify the contract before being lent money.

Interestingly, the agreement states that there will have to be changes to the treaty basis of the currency union - a bit hint in favour of treaty change.

The new German government will support the completion of the single market, to which you can add the usual talk of both requiring further harmonisation to help create a level playing field and also ensuring the reduction of red tape, etc., etc., that always bolted on statements about the single market these days (and apparently copy-pasted here for emphasis). The stand out policy here is on posted workers, which should be "developed" to ensure that posted workers work under the same pay and conditions as nationals of the host country would.

Social Europe

Not much here at all. Under this heading the austerity rhetoric is repeated, perhaps on the basis that since times are tough austerity will have to stand in to reduce the number of policies, ironically causing a policy deficit in the process. There's not much here that isn't already long-standing policy at the EU level. Youth unemployment is bemoaned (the answer is held out to be structural reform and making free movement of this young educated workforce easier). Social and wage dumping are to be fought, and the new government will be supportive of tax harmonisation, which will have the alarm bells ringing from Dublin to Helsinki.

Money from the European Investment Bank has been promised for several types of projects and policy. Honestly, so many people have promised EIB money for so many things at this point that I'm starting to wonder if the next financial crisis will be when it collapses. It seems that when the EU budget is so small and you're cutting it, the answer is to promise to get the EIB to lend money for it. Just wait til the Europarty manifestos come out....

EU Democracy and foreign Policy

Enlargement, while supported, will face a tougher Germany: criteria must be more strictly applied, and Turkey's accession process won't "automatically" end in membership. Berlin also wants to beef up EU foreign policy through its humanitarian and development aid policies - and even military planning. It foresees a close cooperation between the EU and NATO here, which is probably something that would happen to a certain degree, directly or indirectly, though the neutral Member States may not be so happy with this.

When it comes to EU Democracy, there is nothing new: more education about Europe and supporting a more uniform electoral code seems to be the extent of the coalition's thinking here. There's not even a mention about how the 2014 elections can be used, never mind how they might affect the formation of the next Commission. Berlin will, however, want to see German on a more equal footing with French and English as a working language of the EU - it will be interesting to see how it pushes for this in practice.

Overall, very disappointing, if not entirely unexpected. For those of us on the left, the agreement's European paragraphs appear to contain no "social democratic handwriting". For those hoping for a change to Germany's Eurozone policy there is not only nothing, but a vigorous restatement of that nothing. For those looking for renegotiation there is an encouraging hint here, though the passage on social standards and the attitude towards the posting of workers will - or should - worry some British politicians who perhaps project too much of themselves into Germany's pro-single market outlook.

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