Germany and Europe

Germany and Europe

That many decisions are made in far-off Brussels instead of in one’s own capital may at first glance be a reason for concern. But even the largest EU Member States, such as Germany or Great Britain, are too small on an international scale to be able to assert their interests alone. Only concerted action by all Member States of the EU will put Europe on an equal footing with other nations in a globalized world.

European Parliament

European Parliament

Photo: Ute Grabowsky

Equally, Europe’s single currency, the Euro, the freedom of movement of people, goods, capital and services not only contribute to economic stability and growth in Europe but also promote a cultural exchange between people.

The role of Germany in the decision-making system of the EU

There are several institutions involved in the legislative process of the European Union: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.

The European Commission elaborates the drafts for pieces of legislation of the European Union – regulations, directives or decisions  - and enters them into the EU legislative process. However, the Council of the European Union, representing the governments of the Member States, has the final say in the EU decision-making process. In certain political areas, however, the European Parliament shares legislative power equally with the Council.

Coordination within the Federal Government

When the European Commission proposes legislation, the German Government becomes actively involved even before the Council takes up initial deliberations.

As most acts, proposed  by the EU Commission, involve more than one political field, several federal ministries within the Federal Government are often responsible. The ministry in charge subsequently represents the Federal Government in Brussels in the configuration of the Council that is to decide on the act.

So as to be able to take into account the positions of the various ministries involved, the ministry in charge is to induce a common position of the entire Federal Government that may serve as the German negotiating position in Brussels.

Differences of opinion that might rise between ministries are swiftly remedied with the aid of special boards. Among these are the European Affairs Officers of the ministries, who often meet ad hoc and informally discuss current European political affairs.

The most important instrument of coordination within the Federal Government is the round table of the European Affairs Directors-General of the federal ministries. Directors-general report directly to a secretary of state and thus, as political civil servants, occupy a special place within ministries.

The Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Economics together chair the round table of European Affairs Directors-General. This round table discusses the ministerial positions on European political issues and establishes the common position of the German government.

Issues, upon which the Directors-General cannot reach consensus, are dealt with by the Federal Committee of State Secretaries for European Affairs. It also adopts the common positions established by the Directors-General. The Committee of State Secretaries is chaired by the Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office.

As in all political areas, the Federal Chancellery also plays a coordinating role in European affairs. The European Affairs Director-General of the Chancellery participates in the sessions of the European Affairs Directors-General and is the Chancellor’s closest political adviser concerning EU policy. The Head of the Federal Chancellery is a member of the Federal Committee of State Secretaries for European Affairs.

The role of Germany’s Permanent Representation to the EU

The Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union also plays an important role; it is kind of German embassy with the EU. Its employees inform the federal ministries, the Federal Foreign Office in particular, on the plans of the EU Commission at an early stage. They maintain contact between Berlin and Brussels.

The Permanent Representation furthermore plays an active part in the decision and legislation procedures of the European Union. The permanent representatives of all EU Member States weekly convene in the Committee of Permanent Representatives, the so-called COREPER.

This committee has the task to prepare the work of the Council. As Council decisions are mostly the result of negotiations between the governments of Member States, the Permanent Representation plays an important preparatory role in this case. Thus, the working groups of COREPER, that consist of civil servants of the national administrations, can identify conflicts of interest at an early stage and start paving the way towards compromise.

The European policy early warning system of the Federal Government

The EU Coordinating Group, part of the European Directorate-General at the Federal Foreign Office is in constant contact with the Permanent Representation in Brussels. It continually analyses the opinion-formation process in the European institutions as to identify potential conflicts - from a German point of view – between the German Government and the EU Commission or other Member States at an early stage. This serves to enable the Federal Government to determine an appropriate negotiating strategy as soon as possible.

Implementing European acts in Germany

The Federal Republic of Germany must observe and implement directives and regulations adopted by the EU.

EU regulations are binding and must immediately be applied by the Member States. They constitute immediately applicable law. 

Whereas a directive, whilst also being intended for the Member States, merely constitutes a type of framework law that is to be elaborated by the Member States in an individual legislative process. Directives are implemented along normal German legislative procedures.

The Member States need to implement directives within a given period of time. Should a deadline not be met, the Member State may suffer sanctions, such as the initiation of an infringement procedure. In this case, high fines may have to be paid by the Member States that have not implemented a directive in time. For this case especially, Germany has a set of rules that prescribe how to break down any payment of fines devolving on the Federal Government and the Länder. Both bear part of the costs depending on their responsibility within legislation and the respective part they played in non-compliance.

The participation of the German Länder in European politics

As the Federal Republic of Germany is a federal state, the legislative powers are divided among the federal level and the Länder. In the course of European integration, Germany has surrendered its sovereignty in some policy areas to the EU.

Among these policy areas are some, for which the Länder up to now either had been the legislative authority or indirectly had a say through the Bundesrat. The representation of Germany to the EU is however a competence of the Federal Government. Therefore the Federal Government on EU level also decides on matters assigned to the Länder before they were transferred to the EU.

This would effectively constitute an erosion of Länder competence by the Federal Government via a Brussels detour. To continue to politically involve the Länder in EU affairs, the Federal Government and the Länder have agreed on a number of possibilities for the Länder to participate. Details have been set out in Article 23 of the Basic Law and in the Act on Co-operation between the Federation and the Federal States in Matters concerning the European Union (EUZBLG) and the Agreement between the Federation and the Federal States (BLV).

In practical terms, the Länder have a say in European affairs through the Bundesrat. It is incumbent upon the Federal Government to instruct the Bundesrat at an early stage on all plans at EU level that are relevant for the Länder.

Participating in German EU policy

There are three levels of participation of the Länder. They depend on the extent to which the Länder or Bundesrat competences apply. In the case of EU issues involving political fields in which the Bundesrat previously held the right to participate, the Länder now participate in the deliberations in which the position of the Federal Government is determined.

Should fundamental interests of the Länder be at stake, the next level empowers the Bundesrat to appoint Länder representatives, who alongside the responsible federal ministry can participate in negotiations in the EU Council. Lastly, a Länder representative will be the sole German representative in a Council convening on EU proposals exclusively pertaining to Länder authority.

In matters for which it has legislative power itself, the Federal Government nonetheless has to take into account the position taken by the Bundesrat when establishing the German negotiating position.

In addition, the Bundesrat has a right to participate when it comes to changes concerning the basic principles of the European Union. Thus, treaties on accession of new EU Member States or amendments of European treaties require the approval by the Bundesrat.

Representation offices of the Länder in Brussels

As they do in Berlin, the German Länder also maintain own representation offices in Brussels. That enables them to directly represent their interests to the EU bodies and provides them with short lines of communication on EU activities. In addition, they exert influence through the Committee of the Regions (CoR). This advisory committee of the European Union represents local and regional authorities in the institutional framework of the EU.