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in: Günther Maihold / Stefan Mair / Melanie Müller / Judith Vorrath / Christian Wagner (eds.): German Foreign Policy in Transition. Volatile Conditions, New Momentum, SWP Research Paper 10, December 2021, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin, S. 99-102.


High expectations are being placed on Germany’s
European policy. This was clearly visible before the
German government took over the presidency of the
Council of the European Union (EU) from 1 July to 31
December 2020. The hopes that were placed on Berlin
proved to be extremely varied: While the Netherlands
expected Germany to support them in maintaining
budgetary discipline, Italy had hoped for more solidarity and understanding for its financial situation. The situation was similar with regard to asylum and migration. 

Which position should Germany have supported? Denmark’s proposal to process asylum applications before entry in the future, Greece’s decision to make Turkey a safe third country, or Italy’s plan to allow asylum seekers to move on within the Schengen Area? Finally, there was the European Commission’s plan to hand over asylum applications to an EU agency. […]

The EU is not Europe – EU enlargement does not happen on its own

A rethinking seems appropriate, first of all with the use of the term “Europe”. Increasingly, it is being used synonymously with the EU, which leads to misconceptions. This gives the impression that the EU is the only integration project and that there is no alternative to its deepening and enlargement strategy. However, some European states, such as the members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) – Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Norway – are not seeking EU membership. 

The UK also now belongs to this group of economically powerful countries. In addition, some EU members reject additional integration steps, with the result that a continuation of the deepening agenda could lead to further withdrawals, such as that of Poland. Moreover, there have been violations of the EU treaties, which has led to discussions on expulsion from the Union, as in the case of Hungary. After all, only those countries hoping to solve their economic crises or simply gain more
security, such as the Western Balkans, are still seeking to join the EU. […]

Strengthening intergovernmental cooperation within the EU-27

The multilateral approach is already evident in the
intergovernmental cooperation of the EU-27, for example in foreign policy, because the competences in this policy field lie with the nation-states. The Union’s foreign and security policy is based on consultations and requires unanimous decisions in the European Council. In addition, beyond the supranational level, there are examples of multilateral cooperations within the EU, some of which even have institutionalised formats: the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly, the Visegrád Group, and the Nordic Council. 

These forms of cooperation should be appreciated as a contribution towards European integration, even if they do not entail communitarisation. Finally, the concept of “differentiated integration” also follows the multilateral or intergovernmental approach. According to it, EU member states can contractually agree to cooperate, even outside of EU law. Examples of when this has occurred are the negotiations on the Schengen Treaty, the Treaty Establishing the European Stability Mechanism, the Fiscal Compact, and the Euro Plus Pact. […]

Dealing with the EU neighbourhood (Western Balkans, Eastern Europe)

 EU enlargement policy has raised great expectations among the candidate countries, so much so that the states concerned, such as Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia, are now demanding membership. The degree to which this is happening is distracting from the fact that they do not fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, despite an accession process that has lasted around 20 years: They have neither stable democratic institutions nor functioning market economies.12 Another factor is also working against early accession to the EU: their unwillingness to establish good neighbourly relations in their region. The “Berlin Process”, initiated by the German government in 2014, could not change this either. German European policy should change course here and make it clearer that these states have no place in the EU without making efforts towards peaceful coexistence.

he states associated with the EU without accession prospects (Ukraine, Georgia, and the Republic of Moldova) are still closely intertwined with the post-Soviet
area, the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development (GUAM), and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Tensions between the EU and
Russia therefore affect the stability of these countries. This is evident in the territorial conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine. Concepts that allow for overlapping
areas of integration between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU, Russia, Belarus, and Armenia) would be helpful here. While this was ruled out
in the case of Ukraine, it was already feasible in the case of the EU partnership agreement with Armenia. Germany’s European policy could motivate Brussels
to follow Armenia’s example and make such cooperation possible for other countries as well.