SWP: Between change and continuity: European expectations towards Czech and German EU policies after the 2021 elections

For the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Žiga Faktor, Director of our Brussels office, and Zuzana Stuchlíková, Research Associate at EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy, co-authored an article on the European expectations of the Czech and German governments' European policy.

The year 2022 bears the potential for changes of European Union (EU) policies in two unlike neighbouring countries, the Czech Republic and Germany, after their parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2021. Results indicate that the outgoing governing coalitions in both cases will profoundly change. In the Czech Republic, Prime Minister (PM) Andrej Babiš’ time in government has ended. Winning opposition forces, two coalitions of conservative and centrist parties campaigned on a stronger and more proactive government in Prague within the EU. Both form the new government in a political constellation that is new to Czech domestic politics.
In Germany, Chancellor Merkel’s departure as a leading figure in the European Council after 16 years will likely imply shifts in Berlin’s policies within the EU. Meanwhile, the elections to the German Bundestag produced clear changes in voter preferences resulting in a coalition agreement between Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals and thus leaving Merkel’s centre-right CDU/CSU parties in opposition after having shaped Berlin’s EU policy for more than a decade.
As is the case with the Czech Republic, an agreement was struck in Germany to form a coalition that is unprecedented and new on the national level. Thus, Brussels face rather uncertain prospects in regard to how much both member states will be willing to engage proactively in the Council as several key EU policies – climate change, rule of law and the economic and fiscal integration – are each in a crucial phase of political negotiation, implementation or discussion.
Despite embodying several pertinent differences in the EU – medium- vs. large-size member state, new vs. founding member, Western vs. Central and Eastern European, Eurozone member vs. non-euro country –, under the outgoing leaderships of Mr Babiš and Ms Merkel, the Czech Republic and Germany maintained close and friendly ties within their Strategic Dialogue. Czech-German relations are thus an important bellwether of the general state of the EU’s cohesion. An alignment of policies between both capitals can signal broader consensus in the EU at large as relations between both neighbouring member states represent many of the prevailing cleavages that have shaped EU politics, in the last decade. The incoming new governments in Prague and Berlin and their potentially differing responses to the three important challenges for the EU addressed below may change this constant and thereby affect EU cohesion in general. Moreover, Germany with its track record of constant proactive EU engagement recently completed its EU Council Presidency in 2020, tackling the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. The upcoming Czech Presidency of the Council in the second half of 2022 will demand more European commitment from a rather »moderate Eurosceptic« member state in consolidating the Union that strives to finally overcome the pandemic.
What can EU decision makers expect from the outcomes of the elections in the Czech Republic and Germany and their potential for policy changes towards Brussels? Will relevant changes in EU policies such as climate, economic and fiscal reforms and the rule of law become visible, after all?

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#Germany #Czech Republic #EU policies

Zuzana Stuchlíková
Associate Research Fellow

Expertise: Central Europe, EU Institutions

Žiga Faktor
Deputy Director & Head of Brussels Office

Expertise: European integration of Western Balkans, EU enlargement, Slovenian Politics and EU-Turkey relations

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