‘A successful EU Council Presidency – in spite of the pandemic’

Tanja Gönner, Chair of the GIZ Management Board, looks back at Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Her conclusion? A lot was achieved in the face of the pandemic.

Friederike Bauer

COVID-19 dominated Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. For example, the EU-Africa Summit had to be postponed and the EU-China Summit was changed to a video conference. Despite all this, what was achieved during the German Presidency?
In my view, the last six months of 2020 were highly successful, although a lot of attention was taken up by the pandemic. Reaching an agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework, which was preceded by very difficult negotiations, was great. Otherwise, the conflict could have had disastrous consequences for the unity of the European Union. It was incredibly important for the cohesion of the Union that the Council managed to overcome the veto of some Member States on the conditionality mechanism on the rule of law and to bring or keep, everyone on board.

More specifically, what is the outcome in the field of development cooperation?
This is another area where I see a great deal of progress. For the first time, the new Multiannual Financial Framework brings together all external policy under a new financing instrument known as the ‘Neighbourhood Development and International Cooperation Instrument’. This allows the EU to act more flexibly at the international level, but also more coherently and transparently. This creates planning security, not least for us as an implementing organisation. I also consider the Post-Cotonou Agreement brokered by the Commission in December with 79 African, Pacific and Caribbean states, to be another remarkable achievement. It marks the world’s largest North-South agreement, which will affect 1.5 billion people on four continents, and once in effect will provide the framework for the next 20 years.

Which topics were further relevant during the German Council Presidency?
Green recovery and digitalisation were two important issues. Both are crucial aspects of the EU’s COVID-19 response and they are also a key focus of our work in the next few years. We are fully in step with the EU here and we complement one another very well. For example, it was decided to establish a common data market and data space between Europe and Africa. A so-called ‘Digital Innovation Bridge’ was also decided. This African-European initiative is designed to support digital innovation and entrepreneurship. There are lots of exciting, forward-looking approaches in this context.

Africa was a priority of the German Council Presidency. Why is Africa so important for Europe?
There are several reasons: The two continents share a common history, that of course connects them. And we both stand for multilateralism, another area on which we agree upon. And of course, Africa is our neighbouring continent. What happens there is not insignificant for us. Then there are geopolitical and economic interests: The largest free trade area in the world is currently being established in Africa – with the strong support of the EU, by the way. European Member States can also benefit from this enormous potential – on a political, economic, ecological and cultural level. And then there is migration, which is an issue for both Africa and Europe. Basically, everything points to the need for closer cooperation.

Keyword cooperation – how important is collaboration with the EU for GIZ?
Very important and increasingly so. After the German Federal Government, the EU is our second major client. In fact, for International Services – the GIZ business area that competes with other organisations for tenders on the international market – the EU is the largest client.

GIZ-Vorstandssprecherin Tanja Gönner
Tanja Gönner, Chair of the GIZ Management Board

In most cases, we implement projects for the EU in the form of so-called ‘co-financing agreements’, commissioned by German Government, mostly the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. In West Africa, for instance, we are working together on the digital disease surveillance and outbreak management system SORMAS. This software allows our partners to monitor and contain over 20 communicable diseases at the moment. Bilateral and European development cooperation complement one another financially and technically. Within the European framework, larger programmes can be set up – some of which we are already implementing bilaterally. In this way, the results can be multiplied.

The EU is not just an important client for us, but also an institution that sets the political and technical framework, generates new policies, approaches and strategies. It has a completely different weight on a global level. All these factors make the EU an important key partner for us.

Conversely, what does GIZ mean to the EU?
As a Member State agency, we are the largest bilateral implementer for the EU – a development that has taken place over the last two to three years. That is both the claim and the incentive for us, because our size brings with it the responsibility to ensure a special quality and entails a large number of cooperation arrangements with other actors. The EU particularly appreciates our local expertise and our proven strength in implementation. It is not enough just to have a plan; you have to know how to realise that plan. That is precisely what we can offer and contribute thanks to our decades of global experience.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has launched the ‘Team Europe’ approach. It is also intended to be part of EU-wide development cooperation in the longer term. What do you think of this approach?
I think that ‘Team Europe’ is a very worthwhile concept, because it allows us to coordinate our approaches better with other EU Member States. We can carry out projects more easily with the implementing organisations of other Member States, and use a common label and adopt common standards. This increases Europe’s clout and is fully in our interest.

Are you not concerned that GIZ as an institution could become less visible?
No, I have no concerns about that. It is not about the visibility of individual institutions, but about achieving the greatest possible progress in development, which can be better achieved by cooperating with others. At the end of the day, we remain an experienced implementing organisation. That is our strength. We are perceived as such, regardless of the label.

January 2021