A few days before the start of the German EU Council Presidency, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pledged solidarity to the countries particularly hard hit by the Corona crisis. During a visit to the Italian capital Rome, the SPD politician named "a powerful economic and social restart" as the top priority of the presidency, which begins on July 1. "We want a brave one, but above all we want a solidary start. And we are determined not to leave any country behind in Europe."
Despite the different positions in Europe, he feels a willingness to compromise on all sides. "I am firmly convinced that it is no longer a question of whether, but it is only a question of how," said the minister with regard to the planned reconstruction fund of 750 billion euros for countries particularly hard hit by the Corona crisis. "This crisis is historical, but the willingness to change is historically great, and we want to use that," said Maas. Germany will take over the EU Presidency for six months on July 1, which will focus on coping with the Corona crisis and negotiations on relations with Great Britain after the Brexit transition phase, which expires at the end of the year.
Italy is the European country where the corona virus spread most dramatically at the start of the pandemic. Back then there was criticism of Germany. Above all, a German export ban on respiratory masks, protective suits and glasses caused displeasure. The categorical no by the federal government regarding the communitization of debts via so-called "corona bonds" has meanwhile led to an anti-Germany mood.
Warning about caution when traveling on vacation
However, this has changed since Germany and France made a joint effort for an EU reconstruction program, which was well received in Italy. In addition, the tourism industry is hoping for German vacationers for most European countries after the lifting of the German travel warning. Italy is the second most popular holiday destination for Germans after Spain.
Maas, however, called on the Germans to be careful during the holidays. "Many Germans want to come back to Italy this summer," he said. The health of the visitors must be guaranteed just like that of the hosts. It is therefore important to "behave in a particularly responsible manner" and to follow the anti-corona rules so that the number of cases does not increase again later in Germany or in the holiday country.
Italy has opened its borders to foreigners since the beginning of June. Distance rules still apply in hotels and on the beach; in many closed rooms, wearing a face mask is compulsory. For museums, for example, it is important to book the visit in advance. As with other sights, fewer people are allowed in than normally at the same time.
Libya conflict and distribution of migrants
Maas also visited the State Spallanzani Institute in Rome, Italy's leader in coronavirus research and treatment for Covid-19 patients, and the headquarters of the EU's Irini naval mission to combat arms smuggling into Libya. The SPD politician called for more engagement from other countries.
Speaking of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's threat of direct military intervention in Libya, Maas said that a ceasefire agreement has now become even more urgent. Together with Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio, he appealed to the parties to the conflict to continue the political process.
Di Maio called for an expansion of the surveillance of the arms embargo from the air. Arms deliveries to the civil war country would have to be "limited as much as possible or even prevented". The appointment of a new UN special envoy for Libya is also important, the Italian Foreign Minister stressed.
The Libyan civil war is being fought by the UN recognized government in Tripoli and the forces of General Chalifa Haftar, under whose control much of the south and east of Libya are under control. The unitary government receives military support from Turkey and Qatar, Haftar has backed Egypt, Russia and the United Arab Emirates, among others.
Di Maio also emphasized that he hoped that the German Presidency would "give new impetus" to the question of the redistribution of migrants to other EU countries. The corona virus made the subject more complicated. "The redistribution is on hold," said Di Maio. This now has to change.