Franziska Brantner MdB talks about her hopes that the new German government will reframe its European policy. Its priorities in this process should be the European Green Deal, defending the rule of law and bolstering the EU’s capacity to act.
Christine Pütz: First of all, congratulations! You won a direct constituency seat for the Greens in Heidelberg, the first ever in Baden-Württemberg. Was European policy a particular focus of your election campaign on the ground?
Franziska Brantner: Thank you! Europe kept cropping up as a theme while we were campaigning locally. On my campaign tour of Baden-Württemberg, I spoke many times about the fact that we will only be able to solve the major challenges of our times by working together. This is obviously applicable to the climate crisis, where the citizens expect Europe to blaze the trail towards climate neutrality. But it is also applicable to the coronavirus crisis, which showed us what European solidarity looks like, when hospitals in Baden-Württemberg were taking in patients from Alsace. Or in matters related to digitalisation and cross-border traffic, for instance a European night train network, which would add enormous value. Europe plays a big part in people’s everyday lives!
In general, however, Europe was a very marginal issue in the election campaign. Why was this?
In the election campaign, Europe did not get the focus it has in actual everyday politics. The CDU even tried to put a negative spin on it, for instance with the campaign term “debt union”. It is a sad day when the party of Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer uses Europe to stir up fear. It did not work. But it is true, overall the election campaign was very much geared to the domestic point of view and domestic policy.
The good news for Europe is that only pro-European democratic parties increased their vote share in the elections.
Even if Germany did not pay a lot of attention to Europe in the elections, our European partners certainly paid a great deal of attention to the elections and their results. What message do you think the election results sent out?
The good news for Europe is that only pro-European democratic parties increased their vote share in the elections. AfD, the only anti-European party in Germany, on the other hand, lost vote share. Compared to other European countries, these election results are a powerful statement in favour of Europe. The challenge is how we move on from a Merkel-esque administrative policy that manages crises, but fails to tackle major problems at source or develop any vision for Europe’s future. The next government needs to take a bold approach to European policy. Our aim is for a government coalition that deals with the major challenges and, in the event of differences of opinion, is also prepared to move forward with individual European partners.
Bolstering the EU’s capacity to act and democratising its decision-making process is our shared intention.
With talks getting underway, a traffic-light coalition is currently looking like the most credible option. Will this herald a new direction for Germany’s Europe policy?
I think that we have a number of shared opinions that indicate a new direction.
What shared opinions are you thinking of? What you think is your greatest point of commonality in European policy?
We have shared opinions on the institutional framework of the EU. Bolstering the EU’s capacity to act and democratising its decision-making process is our shared intention. I anticipate support for the Community method, i.e. moving away from Merkel’s exclusive inter-governmentalism, governing via the Heads of State or Government in the European Council. In the FDP, I can at least see a certain openness on the matter. I hope that we achieve something concerning the institutional framework of the EU, also with a view to transnational election lists.
How is it looking on European migration policy?
On migration policy, it is not quite as clear-cut as it is on the institutional questions. On paper, there are overlaps and on the matter of creating a modern immigration policy, we hope to be able to count the FDP a partner. However, it will be much harder when it comes to implementing a humane asylum policy and that is partly because a new German asylum and immigration policy will not be enough to carve a new EU policy out of. There are still a lot of question marks on that point.
I anticipate a potential for conflict over the necessary European infrastructure measures for a railway network and renewable energies.
Where do you anticipate the greatest divisions?
I anticipate a potential for conflict over the necessary European infrastructure measures, for a high-speed railway network and renewable energies, for instance. And not just box-ticking speeches about how necessary they are, but actually doing the work to secure financing for them. The most important question now is how we secure an investment capability of the EU Member States and how we move European public goods forward. I see these as our major differences of opinion with the FDP.
The EU recovery funds also come under the heading of investment. In the not-too-distant future, the decision will have to be made as to whether common European investments, as currently permitted by the EU recovery funds, are made permanent and paid for out of joint European credits and taxes. Do you anticipate this kind of change of direction from the FDP, which is in favour of reverting to the European Stability Pact?
That is a difficult one! On this question, the FDP is closer to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz than to French President Emmanuel Macron, even though the FDP and Macron’s La République en Marche both belong to the same political group, Renew Europe, in the European Parliament. I hope that the FDP wakes up to reality: if we go straight back into stringent austerity measures, we will plunge Europe back into recession. We simply cannot do this to the economy in Europe.
I hope that we will find common ground for the financing of Europe’s modernisation, so that digitalisation, the infrastructure for climate protection, can be put in place at a truly European level.
France, certainly, has always hoped to find a more proactive partner in Berlin for joint European policy initiatives. Do you think that this could gather more impetus under the new German government?
I hope so! I really hope that in the coalition negotiations, we develop a joint vision not just for Germany, but also the whole of Europe. A lowest-common-denominator policy in which everybody constantly blocks everybody else and abstains in the EU Council so that everything is at deadlock won’t help anybody. I hope that we manage to move away from that. That was the Grand Coalition’s failure – it blocked more than it initiated. I really hope that with the new government, Germany will be able to breathe new life into the EU. Firstly, as regards institutional matters, moving from consensus to qualified majority in the EU Council and strengthening the European Parliament. And secondly, more capacity to act in the field of asylum and migration or defence. I also hope that we will find a joint way forward for the modernisation of Europe, with excellent framework conditions for a CO2-free economy and how to pay for this, so that digitalisation, the infrastructure and new technologies for climate protection, can be put in place at a truly European level. It is not enough to approach everything from a purely national perspective. We must move forward as Europe. If we want to import solar energy from Spain to Germany, we will need a European energy infrastructure. And that has to be paid for.
You have long been a proponent of European integration. You have been the Alliance 90/The Greens’ European policy spokesperson in the Bundestag since 2018 and before that you were a Member of the European Parliament. For you personally, what are the three most important European policy priorities for the coming years? And how do you rate the prospects of really addressing these matters under a new government?
Number 1 is a highly ambitious European Green Deal. To pull this off, we need strong investment and legal framework conditions to expand renewable energies, in which nuclear energy can play no part, a transition in transport, agriculture and industry, a sustainable circular economy, new approaches to construction – the proposals are on the table and it is now time to implement them!
Number 2 is strengthening democracy and rule of law in the EU. To achieve this, the love-ins with enemies of democracy, such as Orbán and co, must end.
Number 3 is strategic sovereignty for Europe at global level. From digitalisation to health to the classic fields of foreign policy. I want Europe to carve out an international capacity for action, allowing us to really push our European interests.
Talking of European sovereignty: during its Presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2022, France intends to advocate for a deepening of European defence policy. Where do you expect the new German government to stand on this matter?
We want to create more synergies in the field of defence. However, this always depends on the hows and whys. Fundamentally, our view is that we need more synergies, more cooperation and more integration in defence. I just think that the devil is in the detail. This is certainly the case with the Franco-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS), but also for the EU battlegroups, which have existed for years on paper but never been deployed. This shows that paper tigers are not enough, we need political will for true synergies, rather than an inflation of the armament industry.
As we have already mentioned, France will take over the EU Council Presidency in January 2022 and needs Germany onside to make progress at EU level in certain areas. Obviously, you don’t have a crystal ball, but do you think Germany will see in the New Year with a new government?
(Laughs) I don’t know, but I hope so, because any other scenario will cost Europe dearly.
Many thanks for the interview!
This interview was first published in German on boell.de.