Rasmus Andresen is the new spokesperson of the German Green delegation (Europagruppe Grüne) in the European Parliament. The Director of our European Union office, Eva van de Rakt, talked to him about the opportunities opened up at EU level by the Green participation in the German coalition government.
Eva van de Rakt: Rasmus, you were voted as the new spokesperson of the German Green delegation in the European Parliament on 13 December 2021. You are taking over this position from Sven Giegold, who is moving to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action as Secretary of State. The influence of the Greens in the ‘traffic light’ coalition agreement is particularly clear when it comes to European issues. Europe runs like a green thread through the 177-page text. German Green MEPs also played an important role in this, providing their expertise during the coalition negotiations. What do you consider to be the most important Green successes in the coalition agreement, from a European point of view? And where do you foresee challenges?
Rasmus Andresen: There is indeed an obvious European handprint on the coalition agreement. Its fundamental support for the climate package of the European Commission (the Fit for 55 package), its clear commitment to an EU on a sound democratic footing and unambiguous calls for more European climate investment are huge successes. The new German government, unlike its predecessor, will not be hindering ambitious proposals, but will be making its own. Even the fact that the traffic light coalition is unambiguously calling out the problems with the Rule of Law in certain EU Member States and, in contrast to its predecessor, intends to fight for the Rule of Law at European level is a breath of fresh air to us in the European Parliament. In my view, the challenges will come at day-to-day level. The coalition partners differ enormously over economic and monetary policy, for instance, and over social issues.
The Greens are in charge of five ministries in total. With the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action, the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and the Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection, they are responsible for four departments of critical importance in European politics, which have not infrequently blocked each other in the past. What doors does this open up for improved European coordination?
I am absolutely delighted that we now have Greens like Sven Giegold and the new Minister of State for Europe, Anna Lührmann, holding key positions in the German government in areas with considerable European overlap. As Greens, we are a European party and now we have the chance to take our country in a more European direction. We must insist that our politics works for all people in Europe. The fact that we now have a direct line to the ministries and that there are people in them who know their way around European policies is extremely helpful.
Now that the German Greens are in the German federal government, how do you see the role of the German Green delegation in the European Parliament, with regard to the new areas of influence that will come into play at EU level?
Berlin is often the hub of its own little universe. As the German Green delegation in the European Parliament, we can act as catalyst for the traffic light coalition in our subject areas. We have a huge responsibility for making the Green coalition membership a success. In my view, this includes making room for debate with the European perspective. We must not rest on the laurels of the traffic light compromise, but constantly look to the future along with Green colleagues from other Member States and with civil society. The greater our involvement in the processes, the stronger we will be. That is why we intend to put a good deal of energy into coordination between us as Greens in Brussels and Berlin.
The coalition agreement stipulates that in 2024, the Greens will have the right to propose the German European Commissioner, as long as the European Commission President does not come from Germany. This deal is a success and also a political signal to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. What hopes do you attach to it?
We Greens can go into the fight with confidence. Our rights of proposal gives us the opportunity to focus the election campaign on the question “von der Leyen or Green” and to invest it with our green positions. The elections are a long way ahead, but the message is clear: the President of the European Commission can no longer afford to overlook the Greens. Von der Leyen will therefore have to deliver in the second half of her term in office and be more specific over the climate package and the Rule of Law.
It says in the coalition agreement that the European Parliament should be strengthened. How can this be achieved in reality?
A stronger European Parliament is a prerequisite for a stronger European democracy. Our objective is a comprehensive right of initiative, along the lines of those conferred upon the German federal parliament and the parliaments of the Länder. However, there are also low-threshold possibilities to strengthen the European Parliament, with rights of co-determination and information. The will to do this is there, it now needs the federal ministers to show that they can proactively approach the Parliament and act upon our suggestions at an early stage.
The traffic light coalition is calling for the work of the EU Council to be made more transparent. What do you feel should be taken into account here?
It makes absolutely no sense that such an important institution as the EU Council operates so opaquely. We need more access to minutes of meetings, the positions taken by the Member States and transparency as to the people from whom the representatives of the Member States have sought advice over legislation. We at the European Parliament have also drafted specific demands on this matter and are setting our own example of greater transparency. The European Commission has its own transparency rules too, but that is sadly not the case with the EU Council. EU Member States keep the consultation processes a closely-guarded secret. It is a very positive move that the traffic light coalition agreement is calling for greater transparency in the EU Council. It will be an extremely welcomed development if the new German government were to take the initiative here, on the basis of the coalition agreement, which would require EU Member States to regularly publish their positions on legislative proposals. Then the public would be able to see who is blocking a decision in the EU Council, for instance, or what specific issue they cannot agree upon.
In the traffic light coalition agreement, the partners call upon the European Commission as the guardian of the treaties to use and apply the existing Rule of Law instruments in a more consistent and timely fashion. The new German government would also like to see the application of the existing Rule of Law instruments better used and developed at the EU Council. How can this be brought about?
There are extremely clear rules that should actually have been implemented by the European Commission long ago. The conditionality mechanism, which was voted through one year ago, should have been triggered against the Polish and Hungarian governments months ago. We MEPs have long been bringing pressure to bear on them to do so and now the European Commission has finally taken the first step by writing a letter to Warsaw and Budapest. The greater backing in the EU Council offered by the new German government will hopefully speed up the process. If the European Commission realises that an important partner such as Germany has its back, it will also be able to act more consistently in the future. What obviously needs to stop happening in the EU Council is politicians supporting members of their own political family when they or their government flout the principles of the Rule of Law. Real action against Viktor Orbán was only taken when his Fidesz party was no longer part of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, which also includes the CDU and CSU.
How do you rate the traffic light coalition agreement on economic and monetary union and fiscal policy?
Obviously, I would welcome greater integration in this field as well. I am particularly pleased that the Stability and Growth Pact is mentioned in the same breath as flexibility and climate-friendly investments. We need a reform of European fiscal policy, otherwise we will never overcome the economic divide in the EU. We are already seeing the first departures from Grand Coalition policy. The new finance minister, Christian Lindner, is taking a much less hard line towards more flexible deficit rules. This will help the southern EU Member States and promote the necessary transformation of our economy. Quite simply, nothing less would constitute economic and financial policy fit for purpose. I am really excited to see how this will crystallise in the coming months. As Greens in the EP, we will be making the case for a reform of the fiscal rules and more economic policy competence.
The traffic light coalition agreement stresses that the EU must be more capable of action and united internationally. The new German government would like to replace the rule of unanimity in EU Common Foreign and Security Policy with qualified majority voting, while developing a mechanism to ensure the adequate involvement of the smaller Member States. Which partners can the German government rely on to support this objective and which are likely to oppose it?
This would clearly be a great leap forward for the EU. The clash of ideas in foreign policy is robbing the EU of its geopolitical latitude. The idea of replacing unanimity with qualified majority voting is nothing new. The problem is that the Member States will have to vote unanimously to do away with unanimity. I have high hopes that our Green Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, will succeed in getting more Member States on board with these plans.
In December 2019, Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal as the flagship project of her European Commission, aiming to bring about a transition to a climate-neutral, resource-friendly and efficient economy. What is the situation two years on? How can the new German government contribute to an ambitious implementation of the aims of the European Green Deal?
When the European Green Deal was presented, it felt like a new departure. The principles on which it is based are good and true. But it very quickly transpired that implementing it and shaping EU legislation to make the continent climate-neutral was easier said than done. We have already suffered a few setbacks. We Greens were unable to approve the climate law because it was full of empty promises and would not have contributed to the 1.5° objective. Nor has the EU Common Agricultural Policy been reformed, even though agriculture is one of the largest emitters of CO2. These laws are often watered down in the EU Council after the European Commission has made decent proposals and the European Parliament often accepts them as they are or makes them more ambitious. If the new German government can stop this game and the European Commission can find allies through Germany’s influence, we can breathe new life into the European Green Deal and achieve true climate protection. The Scandinavian and Benelux states are on board with this.
From 2022, new rules for sustainable investments should enter into force in the EU. The EU taxonomy will stipulate the conditions under which capital investments can be deemed compatible with the EU’s climate and environmental objectives. This sends out a very important message to the financial markets and sustainable investments. Yet there is a severe dispute over the question whether nuclear energy and gas can be categorised as sustainable investments. The European Commission has announced a proposal for 22 December 2021 to add to the existing legal act. What can be done to keep nuclear energy and gas out of the EU Taxonomy?
This is a major issue that our political group is dealing with. Gas and nuclear power are not green energy and saying that they are would be fatal. The new German government has taken a clear stance against this. However, we need further pressure from the environmental and climate movement. The majorities on this in Brussels are very small. The more pressure is applied, the harder it will be for France and other EU Member States to push through these dangerous plans.
France takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 January 2022. The coalition agreement makes it very clear that the new German government will be guided by a strong Franco-German partnership. What do you predict will be the opportunities and challenges of the French EU Council Presidency for Franco-German cooperation?
The partnership between France and Germany will always be very strong and it is vital for cohesion within the European Union. There have always been differences of opinion, for instance in fiscal policy. But these differences have never led to a split. I believe that with the new German government, we will get many more joint initiatives with France. A tricky issue at the moment is what we have just been talking about, the EU taxonomy for sustainable investments and the fact that President Macron is pushing nuclear power so hard and entering into unholy alliances with certain central European Member States in support of this. We, the Greens at the EP, are looking on with concern. Nevertheless, an EU Council Presidency of a large country always provides opportunities to launch or bring home significant advances. For instance, France intends to discuss legislation on digital rules. This is a matter very close to my heart. We must finally put big tech in its place. The French government has interesting ideas in other areas. There are many common objectives. For instance, France is hugely in favour of biodiversity. However, the French government also needs to put its money where its mouth is: nuclear energy is not compatible with serious climate protection ambitions.
Thank you very much for the interview and I would like to wish you every success for your new tasks!
This interview was first published in German on boell.de.