In the end, it even worked out unanimously: All national governments agreed to common European guidelines for the use of artificial intelligence on Friday. This had not been clear days before the vote. Negotiators had agreed on a compromise in December. However, France, Austria and Germany subsequently expressed reservations about this.
The AI Act is not an isolated case. Last year, an agreement had already been reached on the ban on combustion engines, but Minister Volker Wissing made a U-turn – before Germany finally gave up its resistance after making concessions regarding e-fuels. Currently, another EU directive that has already been waved through by negotiators from the Council and EU Parliament is once again on the table: The EU Supply Chain Act. Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Justice Minister Marco Buschmann have stated that their houses cannot agree to the corporate due diligence obligations to comply with human and environmental rights in the negotiated form, partly due to civil liability risks.
Germany's to and fro
Some may say: That's politics. Laws are evaluated differently. However, this view of Germany's to and fro in Brussels overlooks the fact that the reservations were not raised during the negotiations, but after a compromise was reached that the German government had implicitly accepted. Because even if legislative negotiations take place in small groups, the EU Council Presidency informs the capitals of every new twist and turn – just as the rapporteur of the EU Parliament keeps all other groups promptly up to date. Anything else would be political hara-kiri.
In short, it is, of course, completely impractical for 705 MEPs to negotiate legal terms and indents in law with 27 national ministers. It is, therefore, imperative to delegate this task to negotiators. However, this practice only works if dissatisfied governments and political groups raise objections in good time.
Some may object at this point: So what? Then there will be fewer EU laws, there are far too many anyway. But this argument doesn't hold water. After all, it's not about any unique legislative bells and whistles but about requirements with political weight. The AI Act plays a crucial role in determining whether European companies can be competitive in the use of AI. The EU Supply Chain Act is helping to create a standardised framework in the EU for the sustainable transformation of the economy – and, therefore, for the expansion of future technologies such as clean tech.
Tthe EU thrives on reliability and a willingness to compromise
Germany's late U-turn manoeuvres make the Federal Government an uncertain partner. European irritation instead of European integration. However, the EU thrives on reliability and a willingness to compromise. There are only a few European legal acts that all governments have agreed to in every detail. But the bottom line is that all EU countries have benefited immensely from the agreement on standardised guidelines and the expansion of the common market.
The understanding of the common benefit of the European institution has recently been jeopardised, whether by the strengthening of nationalist forces such as in the Netherlands, by Hungarian muscle-flexing when unanimity is required or by rowdy blockades such as in Italy's parliament against safeguards in the event of bank failures. The EU's ability to make decisions threatens to be further restricted if it becomes more difficult to find a majority in the future EU Parliament and when Hungary takes over the EU Council Presidency. It is, therefore, doubly painful if Germany impairs its own reliability due to the back and forth in legislative procedures. The government should bear this in mind when it discusses its position on the EU Supply Chain Act on Wednesday.