Too much even for Merkel: Europe’s 2020 pile-up

This time, even Mutti couldn’t make everything better.

For much of the past decade and a half, the EU could generally count on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to come to the rescue. But between the coronavirus pandemic, the dragged-out Brexit talks, a budget stalemate, and an array of geopolitical tensions especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, the year 2020 has turned into such a hellscape of policy problems, even Europe’s steady-handed matriarch has found herself outmatched.

Many of these problems come crashing together Thursday and Friday at the European Council’s summit, the final regularly-scheduled gathering of the 27 heads of state and government during Germany’s presidency of the Council of the EU.

Some issues like the deadlock over the EU’s €1.82 trillion budget-and-recovery package seem on the cusp of a resolution, with Merkel having led the effort to broker a compromise after Hungary and Poland objected to a new mechanism tying budget funds to respect for the rule of law. Other issues, like how to respond to provocations by Turkey in the Mediterranean, will be at best only partially resolved, whatever the leaders at the summit finally decide on moving toward more sanctions.

Other sensitive matters — especially an overhaul of asylum and migration policy — that many in the EU hoped might finally be solved, at least on the key points, during Germany’s six-month presidency are not even on the summit agenda. Ministers and ambassadors failed to make sufficient headway in negotiations for leaders to discuss, let alone conclude, an agreement. Some said that given the already overloaded agenda, it was probably for the best.

Nevertheless, some EU officials and diplomats said they could not imagine how the EU would have managed if any other country or national leader had held the presidency in the second half of this year — and that the challenges the German presidency faced were the policy equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.

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