Full of energy – Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU

During its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, Germany wants to lend a fresh stimulus for clean growth and innovation to Europe's ambitious energy policy.

Paper ships showing German and European flags.© Adobe Stock/M.Dörr & M.Frommher

On 1 July 2020, Germany assumed the six-month presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). Until the end of the year, Germany will chair the meetings of the Council and its preparatory committees and working parties and represent the Council in its dealings with other EU bodies, for example during negotiations on legislative acts with the European Parliament and the European Commission, but also vis-à-vis third countries and international organisations. The Council convenes in different configurations depending on the issues under discussion. Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier will preside over five such Council configurations: the Competitiveness, Energy, Telecommunications, Trade and Cohesion councils. In the field of energy, the Council is responsible, among other things, for working with the European Parliament to create legal provisions on the functioning of the energy markets that safeguard energy security and promote energy efficiency as well as new and renewable sources of energy. A recent example of this is the EU's 'Clean Energy for All Europeans' package.

Every six months, the presidency of the Council rotates between the 27 member states. Taking over from Germany, Portugal and Slovenia will hold the presidency in the first and second halves of 2021 respectively. Working together as a trio, the three countries hope, among other things, to make progress on European energy policy and to increase continuity in policy-making through close cooperation. Their eighteen-month Trio Presidency will focus on the areas set out in the 'Trio Programme'.

COVID-19 pandemic takes centre stage in Council Presidency

Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU will be shaped by the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The focus will be on handling the health, economic and societal impact of the pandemic across Europe. This is also the vision expressed in the Presidency's motto: 'Together for Europe's recovery.' The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy wants to strengthen the long-term competitiveness, capacity for innovation, and resilience of the European economy. The priorities relating to the various policy fields – competitiveness, cohesion, trade, digital affairs and energy – are set out by the Ministry's work programme. They include, for example, strengthening European business, safeguarding open markets, creating a level playing field, enhancing the EU's digital sovereignty and shaping structural change. The goal of economic recovery, guided by a clear vision for the future and aspirations for a 'clean economy', will be furthered by using the opportunities of the European Green Deal. By virtue of this Green Deal, Europe is seeking to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. In 2020 and 2021, the European Commission will present around 50 measures that are to be taken en route towards this goal. The Green Deal is one of the most important projects of the new European Commission. Germany wants to make sure that it will be used to help Europe become more innovative, competitive and sustainable as it emerges from the crisis.

Minister Altmaier: 'We want the Green Deal to work'

As Economic Affairs Minister Peter Altmaier pointed out during the presentation of the Presidency Programme, enhancing the EU's competitiveness requires not only an EU industrial strategy, a modernisation of competition law, bureaucracy reduction and a focus on digitalisation, but also greater efforts to promote investment in forward-looking technologies – particularly innovative energy and climate technologies. 'We want to reach the climate targets set by the European Union and we want the Green Deal to work,' said Minister Altmaier. Therefore, he added, the Green Deal has to be accompanied by 'clean' growth, which requires more innovation, but also more financial incentives to use climate-friendly technologies. 'We have to concern ourselves with new forward-looking technologies such as hydrogen.' According to Minister Altmaier, this can only work if the path towards a climate-neutral economy is reconciled with safeguarding global competitiveness on international markets.

To achieve this goal, the policy framework must be optimised, Altmaier said. The goal is to create greater scope for innovation. Thus, the work begun by Germany as part of its 'regulatory sandboxes for the energy transition', for example, is to be continued at European level.

In order to support the economic recovery, Germany will particularly focus on measures in the European Green Deal which offer relief, and possibly also a boost, in the short term. The transition to a resource-efficient and competitive economy creates a great need for investment. Therefore, an investment plan for a sustainable Europe and a mechanism for fair structural change rank high on the Presidency's agenda.

Promoting high-growth fields of technology and pressing ahead with climate action

'Germany is pursuing a forward-looking energy policy that provides a clear framework for cross-border offshore projects and explicit incentives to develop hydrogen technologies,' Altmaier pointed out at the event.

Offshore wind projects and hydrogen technologies not only make an important contribution to energy policy, in order to attain the EU's ambitious energy and climate targets, but also offer major opportunities in the field of industrial policy. However, joint projects by the EU member states, particularly in the field of offshore wind energy, currently lack a favourable European policy framework. Germany therefore wants to support the adoption of Council conclusions which take account of the strategy on offshore renewable energy announced by the European Commission. The core element is to be a framework that promotes the implementation of joint projects – just as the member states of the North Seas Energy Cooperation and the European Commissioner for Energy had called for at their meeting in early July.

The relevant European and global markets and infrastructure need to be built up so that natural gas can gradually be replaced by hydrogen, and so that other hydrogen applications can be developed. In this area as well, Germany is seeking to work towards the adoption of Council conclusions. A high-level conference scheduled for early October is intended to advance the debate on the development of an EU single market for hydrogen.

Attaining the EU 2030 targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency

The evaluation of the National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) conducted by the European Commission is to provide the basis for considerations on how the EU's 2030 energy targets for the improvement of energy efficiency and the expansion of renewable energy can be attained. In this context, Germany intends to encourage debate, among other things, on the pricing of emissions in the heating and transport sectors, the initiative of the European Commission to boost the pace of renovation in the buildings sector (renovation wave), and a supportive framework to mobilise investments in renewable energy projects.

Sharing lessons learned on how to maintain power supply in times of crisis

Electricity supply plays a key role in tackling any crisis and in maintaining public services in crisis situations. In order to ensure the proper functioning of the electricity sector, and in order to improve the exchange of information between system operators and regulatory authorities, as well as EU member states and the European Commission, Germany wishes to continue the sharing of experience on the maintenance of power supply in crisis situations with a view to possible future healthcare crises.

There are high expectations for Germany to make progress on these and other important future-oriented issues that are central to the collaborative effort to enable Europe's recovery.