As the largest and most economically powerful country in the European Union, Germany plays a significant role in the EU legislative process. But what does that actually mean? In what formal and informal ways do German actors exert influence on the planning and shaping of EU legislation, and how do they coordinate their efforts? In this article, we open the black box and explain the implications for advocacy.
Information gathering and preparation
As a matter of principle, the Federal Government strives to start internal decision-making on an EU legislative initiative as early as possible. In order to obtain information about the European Commission’s plans at an early stage, German ministry officials use their personal networks in the European Commission’s Directorates-General and in the Commissioners’ cabinets for informal exchanges. The more political and sensitive the subject matter, the more high-ranking the actors already involved at this stage. They are supported by the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the EU in Brussels.
Representatives of the Federal Ministries also use participation formats such as expert groups to exchange views on planned legislative initiatives with the Commission, other Member States, and further stakeholders at an early stage.
Decision-making by the federal government
Once the European Commission has presented a draft law, the German government develops a position on it. In accordance with the principle of departmental coordination, the specialist units of the Federal Ministries involved will discuss this. This process must take place as early as possible so that the German representatives in the working groups of the Council of the EU are always able to react. The position is then finally coordinated in bodies such as department heads’ meetings and the Committee of State Secretaries for European Affairs. Only then is Germany’s position forwarded to the Permanent Representation in the form of an instruction and represented in the Council.
The following departments play a key role in coordinating the German government’s position:
- In recent years, the Federal Chancellery has increasingly assumed de facto responsibility for European policy and plays an overriding and active role in coordination. It is involved at a very early stage in departmental coordination, ensures acceleration when necessary, and intervenes, if necessary when the Foreign Office issues instructions to the Permanent Representation.
- The Foreign Office is responsible, among other things, for the German Permanent Mission and the transmission of instructions.
- The lead ministry, whose portfolio is affected by the respective planned EU initiative, coordinates closely with the other involved ministries and specialized staff (so-called attachés) at the Permanent Representation and provides the representatives for the Council working groups, in which every detail of a proposal is discussed and negotiated. If, for example, the proposal is in the environmental field it is handled by the responsible unit of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection.
- The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, in addition to the Federal Foreign Office and the ministry concerned, also issues instructions to the Permanent Representation and communicates negotiating positions to the German representatives in Council preparatory bodies. Since the ministry also coordinates and monitors the implementation of EU directives, its position carries particular weight in the decision-making process of the German government.
- The Federal Ministry of Finance is always closely involved in the coordination process, especially if the EU legislative initiative has financial implications.
The role of the Federal Parliament
The Bundestag, the German Federal Parliament, has the right, enshrined in the Basic Law, to participate in EU matters. To this end, it may issue an opinion on the legislative initiative, which the Federal Government must take into account in the negotiations. However, these opinions do not carry the weight of a binding mandate. The Federal Government also has the right to deviate from them for important reasons. The Bundestag also has a European Affairs Committee, but this does not play a central role.
Last but not least, the Bundestag’s liaison office in Brussels with representatives of the Bundestag administration and the parliamentary groups is a unique institution in Europe in terms of its size. It acts as a link between the Bundestag and EU institutions, provides information on current developments, and ensures a continuous exchange between members of the Bundestag and EU decision-makers.
The role of the Federal States
Like the Bundestag, the Federal States have the right to participate in EU affairs through the Federal Council, the Bundesrat. The Bundesrat’s opinion must be taken into account by the Federal Government to varying degrees, depending on how strongly the interests or competencies of the federal states are affected. In formats such as the Conference of European Affairs Ministers and the European Affairs Chamber, the Federal States coordinate their opinions.
In addition, the Federal States each maintain state representations in Brussels, which also act as a link between the state and EU levels, represent the specific interests of the states, and provide forums for exchange with numerous popular events. Germany is not alone in this respect in a European comparison: the French regions, for example, also maintain representative offices at the EU. However, since the regions in the strongly centralized French political system have less power than the Federal States in Germany, their influence in Brussels is also more limited than that of the German Federal States.
Influence via the European Parliament
In the EU’s ordinary legislative procedure, the European Parliament, together with the Council, forms the so-called co-legislature and is, therefore, another channel that German actors use to represent their positions in addition to the official position-taking in the Council. As the most populous EU member state, Germany has the highest number of MEPs with a total of 96 representatives. German MEPs in particular, but also parliamentary group chairpersons, committee chairpersons and rapporteurs are the target of influence exerted by German ministry officials, parliamentary groups and party functionaries. Some federal ministries even maintain special departments for this purpose, but most of this influence is exerted informally.
Perspectives for advocacy
Political decision-makers in Germany do not act in isolation when developing and communicating their positions but are embedded in the social interests that voters, companies, NGOs and many other actors bring to their attention. Among them are many associations and policy advisors who, like the Bernstein Group, professionally represent the interests of companies in Berlin and Brussels.
In addition to direct lobbying at the EU level, influencing the German position is another effective way to introduce one’s own interests into an EU legislative process:
- Germany plays a particularly weighty role in the European Union due to its population, central location and economic power.
- Germany exerts influence throughout the legislative process, well before a draft law is published, through informal and formal channels and at all levels and institutions.
- Numerous actors are involved in the formation of positions, resulting in many points of contact for the mediation of interests.
Success factors for an effective advocacy strategy
- Transparency about the specific legislative procedure and the process of German departmental coordination.
- Precise knowledge of the key stakeholders in the federal ministries at the technical and management levels, in the Bundestag, and, if applicable, in the Federal States at the respective point in time of the procedure.
- Provision of high-quality, usable technical-legal information, based on a coherent and connectable political argumentation.
- Close interaction with lobbying activities at the European level.
If you would like to learn more about representing your political and regulatory interests in Berlin and Brussels, please contact our public policy experts Dr. Raffael Hanschmann in Berlin or Elisabeth von Reitzenstein in Brussels.