Dr. No de Merkel gets his most difficult mission yet

Corsepius, 59, has been Angela Merkel’s top adviser in Europe for most of her time as chancellor, helping guide her through the EU’s endless crises. Thanks to that longevity (and its proximity to Merkel), Corsepius has linked the most important network in Europe of any in the German government.

Despite his low profile (according to the tradition of the chancellor’s advisers, he avoids public attention and rarely speaks to the press), experts consider Corsepius to be more influential in European affairs than the affairs minister himself Foreign from Germany.

In the coming months, Corsepius will play a crucial role as Germany takes over the rotating EU presidency, which is in the midst of what Merkel has called the “biggest challenge” in the bloc’s history.

A trained economist who grew up in West Berlin, Corsepius began his career in the economy ministry during the Helmut Kohl era, working for a time at the International Monetary Fund in Washington.

He was assigned to the chancellery while Kohl was still in office, but his professional breakthrough came when an analysis he wrote of EU finances caught the attention of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Corsepius worked for the EU’s top adviser to Schröder, taking office himself when Merkel became chancellor in 2005.

Most of Germany’s European specialists emerge from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Corsepius’ atypical background and background (he has a PhD in business economics) made him suspicious of his colleagues, some of whom question his commitment to Europe until today.

“It is not dyed in European wool,” said a former German EU official, describing Corsepius as an “obstructionist.”

Corsepius, an ambitious tennis player in his youth, played an important role in the early stages of the eurozone debt crisis, rejecting attempts by Athens and other capitals to convince Berlin to bear the brunt of rescuing trapped countries. in the crisis. Corsepius was also the driving force behind the “great big German burger” response to the federalist fantasies exposed by French President Emmanuel Macron in his famous Sorbonne speech in 2017.

However, for Merkel, a trained scientist who values ​​analytical skills, the sober economist has proven to be an ideal choice. Officials who have witnessed the two in action over the years say Corsepius is more than an average Sherpa. “She has Merkel’s complete confidence,” said a senior European diplomat.

That is one of the reasons why Corsepius often attracts the wrath of his colleagues in Brussels and the national capitals. To them, he is “Dr. No.” Whether the problem involves the minutiae of the EU budget or the expansion of the EU, Corsepius has a reputation for pouring cold water on Brussels’ often frothy agenda.

Corsepius, who left Merkel’s service in 2011 for a four-year term as secretary-general of the EU Council, has deep-seated skepticism in the Commission and attempts by officials there to bolster executive power, his associates say. He was often faced, for example, with the right hand of former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Selmayr.

“Many in Brussels consider it too nationalistic,” said a former colleague.

In his dealings with his European counterparts, Corsepius makes no secret of the fact that he pursues the best for Germany.

Still, his supporters argue that while Corsepius might not wear pink glasses when it comes to the EU, that doesn’t make him anti-European at all. “The future of Germany is based on the success of Europe, and he understands it,” said one.

In fact, despite all the skepticism about his commitment to Europe, Corsepius played a central role in pushing the Lisbon Treaty under the last German presidency. More recently, he spearheaded Germany’s push, along with France, for a € 500 billion debt-financed recovery fund to help countries struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic.

During the German presidency, it will be largely up to Corsepius to negotiate a compromise with skeptics of that plan, the so-called Four Frugal. The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden oppose the structuring of aid as subsidies that do not have to be repaid, but instead push loans.

Another priority will be setting the stage for an agreement on the EU’s seven-year budget, a goal that eluded the latest EU presidencies.

Merkel is also committed to advancing strategies for the twin forces that are revolutionizing European society and industry: climate change and digital technology.

The German presidency will also have to find a way forward with China. Relations between the EU and China have been strained by signs that Beijing has obscured the scope of the danger that COVID-19 represents. Due to the pandemic, the EU has postponed a planned summit with China scheduled for September, but Berlin has promised to reschedule it.

Despite concerns about human rights abuses in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the country, China remains a key trading partner, especially for Germany, which will make finding a common position in the EU a priority.

Another challenge on Corsepius’ desk during the German presidency will be Brexit. If the EU’s negotiations with the United Kingdom on a trade agreement are unsuccessful by the end of the year, the bloc would face another economic shock.

Although Corsepius may be affable in private, he looks like the Prussian bureaucrat his detractors make him look like. A tall, skinny man with austere demeanor, Corsepius speaks in measured tones with precise language and is not known to be foolish.

That frankness, which some call “in his face”, could be useful in the coming months, as Germany tries to prevent Europe from falling apart. “Say what you want, at the end of the day, Merkel is lucky to have it,” said a European diplomat.