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8 Feb 2024


EU: Germany's Free Democratic Party takes aim at due diligence directive

"German liberal tail wags EU dog — again"

Free Democratic Party is blocking a major EU business policy initiative at the last minute. It’s not the first time.

[...] This time, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) — which has close ties to Germany's powerful export industry — took aim at proposed rules that would require companies based in the EU to police their value chains for human rights and environmental violations.

Its coalition allies in Berlin are furious, while EU lawmakers, officials, national governments, civil society — and even some businesses — are fed up. [...]

“The result is that European majorities increasingly have to be found without Germany. Germany is thus risking its influence and credibility in Europe.”

The FDP boycott forced Berlin to abstain in a vote that was due to have been held Friday, after Labor Minister Hubertus Heil of Scholz's Social Democrats admitted that his attempt to sweet-talk the FDP had failed due to the latter's “ideologically motivated blockade.”

As a result, the Belgian presidency of the Council of the EU postponed the vote — indicating that it has not yet succeeded in rallying enough support among member countries for the law to pass.

Although the final deal — clinched by negotiators from EU institutions in December — made significant concessions to Germany, the FDP subsequently mounted a rearguard action against the supply chain law that flared coalition tensions this week. The SPD and co-ruling Greens both support the law. 

The move comes as the liberal party — which has a history of pushing a pro-business agenda during its occasional spells in government — strives to stay relevant ahead of European and German regional elections this year, as well as a general election next year.[...]

For the law to pass in a new vote that could take place as early as next week, some countries now on the fence, especially Italy, would have to vote in favor. [...]

Without consulting his coalition partners, liberal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann on Tuesday sent a letter — seen by POLITICO — to other EU capitals, outlining why he is pushing for Germany to abstain in the vote.

“The letter from the Federal Minister of Justice was not coordinated with the [Labor Ministry] and is a highly unusual procedure that has also caused astonishment among the European partners,” a labor ministry spokesperson said.

Two Green ministers also weighed in, including Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. 

“If we break a promise that we have given in Brussels, we will gamble away trust,” she said. [...]

Germany’s abstention reflects the earlier reluctance of its coalition partners to push back harder against efforts by the liberals to kill the law — fearing that infighting would further undermine public support for the country's ailing government.

“The FDP are putting themselves first, and they are putting their national politics first, which is not a surprise per se,” said Richard Gardiner, EU public policy lead with the World Benchmarking Alliance.

“But what is a massive shock is that it appears the [Social Democrats] and the Greens are doing the same thing,” he added. “If they truly wanted to live up their political ideals and show broad solidarity with a global community like they preach, then they would not tolerate the FDP hijacking the agenda like this.”