Foreign policy, virus in focus during Germany's EU Council presidency

Berlin (dpa) - Germany will focus on foreign policy, including relations with Russia, as well as the current health crisis during its rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, set to start on July 1, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday.

Twice a year, a different member state takes over the EU presidency, organizing high-level meetings and brokering between member states to reach consensus on touchy issues and push forward the bloc's agenda.
Specifically, Merkel said Berlin would focus on improving relations with Russia through dialogue that is both critical and constructive, in remarks ahead of an online discussion hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. 
She also underlined the importance of maintaining good relations with the US, for Germany and for Europe. "Europe's most important partner is the United States of America," she said.
Merkel acknowledged that at present, cooperating with the US is harder than she would like in terms of trade, climate policy and the importance of international organizations amid the current health crisis. 
However, transatlantic relations are a central pillar of foreign and security policy, Merkel said. "We should never forget that Europe is not neutral. Europe is part of the political West."
Of Russia, Merkel said that it was important to make clear that in international relations, it is not a question of the rule of the strongest but the strength of the law. That also includes the European Convention on Human Rights. 
Russia has repeatedly contravened these shared rules and values, Merkel said. The country has created a chain of conflict and has annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, in violation of international law.
The country "supports puppet regimes in parts of eastern Ukraine and stages hybrid attacks on western democracies, including Germany," Merkel said, adding that Russia would doubtless continue to occupy Berlin during its EU presidency.
Merkel committed to speaking out if international law was ignored and to maintaining sanctions if no progress is made in the Minsk process. The EU Council Presidency would also give fresh impetus to relations, she added.
Merkel named further areas of focus including Libya, Syria, climate protection, as well as global health. 
She said she hoped that Europe could come out of the current coronavirus crisis stronger than it entered it, and noted that the virus had turned "everything upside down".
Alongside the ongoing health crisis and resulting economic turmoil, Germany also hopes to address the issues of Britain's future relationship with the bloc, climate action and the European asylum system.
Focusing on the virus wasn't always Germany's plan, but the pandemic forced Berlin to rewrite its programme for the six-month tenure, Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin earlier on Wednesday, after a videoconference between Merkel and top European Parliament officials.
Seibert said the videoconference also touched on points about the recovery of the European economy, the long-term EU budget, climate goals, the digital economy and "Europe's role in the world."
A text document outlining Germany's plans for the presidency will be released in the days leading up to July 1, according to the spokesperson. It is also to take into account the European Commission's priorities for the coming months.

Wednesday, May 27th 2020

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