With the announcement Germany will be led by a new left-learning government, following two months of often tense negotiations and political horse-trading, New Europe spoke with Melanie Huml, the State Minister for European and International Affairs in the cabinet of Bavarian Minister-President Markus Söder since 2021. Huml, a politician of the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU), discussed the new coalition, in addition as relations between the federal government and the German states, relations with the EU and other foreign partners and the current Covid crisis that has battered Germany in recent weeks.
New Europe (NE): Have you seen any changes from the government at the federal level?
Melanie Huml (MH): In my opinion, the future coalition lacks a clear focus: During this surge in COVID situations, they declared an end to the pandemic on the national level, which restricts the measures an individual state government can take. The situation is at a basic stage. Our hospitals are running out of beds in the intensive care units. They also appear to have compromised on already the lowest shared denominators when it comes to energy, economic and tax policies. They offer no solutions for surging energy prices and carbon pricing, or how companies and individuals can financially manager the phasing out of subsidies.
NE: Do you think this change will have an impact on relations between the government and the local administrations?
MH: Maintaining a special relationship with the federal government in Berlin is a Bavarian tradition. The Bavarian State government, however, will play a truly special role under the next federal government. In one way or the other, the parties forming the federal-level future coalition are represented in all of the regional state governments, with the exception of Bavaria. We will continue to work with the federal government whenever they propose appropriate measures, but we will also call them out whenever they make mistakes, if necessary.
NE: Which meaningful areas does your ministry function at the European and international levels?
MH: They are complementary to the federal government. The German states also promote and deepen their own international relations. For Bavaria, with its export-oriented economy, this is of particular importance. Bavaria hosts over 120 consular offices and Munich. It is the biggest consular location within Germany (after Berlin). In addition, Bavaria has around 30 representative offices all over the globe. Furthermore, Bavaria is part of an international network of partner regions on four continents, together with Quebec, Georgia, Sao Paulo, Shandong, Western Cape and Upper Austria. On the EU level, the German states have constitutional rights and obligations to take part in negotiations, form Germany’s position via the Bundesrat (the legislative body representing the states) and to continue their own representations in Brussels. In this setting, I have defined three priorities for Bavaria’s relations with the EU and the international community: 1) climate action and sustainability; 2) competitiveness and digitalisation; 3) strengthening European and international partnerships.
NE: How would you define your relations with the EU? Are there some points where there’s tension on a specific topic?
MH: Bavaria is located in the heart of Europe, both emotionally and geographically. We are committed to a strong and united European Union. There are many global challenges to which the EU has to find long term solutions. This includes climate action, global competitiveness, a stable financial architecture, migration, law and order and our role in the world. We need to act faster and more unified. The inclination to centralize all decisions in Brussels does not seem to be the best way to unprotected to this. After all, the EU is governed by the rule of subsidiarity, meaning that Brussels may act only if its members can’t possibly solve a problem on their own and have given the EU the strength to act. Some initiatives raise concerns as to whether these criteria have been observed properly, particularly on social matters, an area where the European Union has nearly no competencies.
NE: Do you expect to see a shift in Germany’s COVID policies? Will the new government take a different approach to enforce restrictive protocols for its citizens and for other Europeans?
MH: We have already seen a change. The coalition that is currently forming on the federal level has made a meaningful alteration to the Infection Protection Act and has announced that the situation regarding the pandemic, at the national level, will not be prolonged by the Bundestag. This is important because it is a legal instrument that is necessary to take action against the pandemic. We believe that we nevertheless need this tool as the pandemic situation in Germany, and in Bavaria, is very serious at the moment. It’s also a signal that is completely misleading. Infection numbers and the allocation of ICU beds are higher than in any pandemic wave that we have had so far. We nevertheless don’t know when we will have reached the peak of the so-called ‘fourth wave’.
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