The Finance Ministry at the European Union in Brussels
Brussels is the political heart of the European Union, and thus it is essential for Germany to ensure that its interests are represented there. In the area of finance, this important task has been entrusted to Elisabeth Göttlinger, the Finance Ministry’s Financial Counsellor at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels.
The Permanent Representation has a staff of around 200 and is headed by the Permanent Representative to the European Union. Three departments (politics, economics and finance) and a number of specialist divisions cover the whole range of European policy. The Permanent Representation’s role is to represent Germany’s interests within the institutions of the European Union – the Council of the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament.
The finance department includes staff from the Finance Ministry, the Bundesbank and the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin). They advise on issues that in Berlin fall within the remit of the Finance Ministry, such as economic and monetary union, the EU budget, taxes, customs, development assistance, financial services and the fight against fraud.
After training as a lawyer, I spent four years teaching European law. In October 2012, I joined the Finance Ministry’s Directorate-General for European Policy. My three years spent working in the division for EU coordination and general issues relating to European policy were fascinating and I learned a great deal. I was then seconded to the Permanent Representation in Brussels, where I had my first experience of working at a European institution. During this period, I assisted the Financial Counsellor, who works on questions of economic and monetary union. After returning to Berlin, I moved to the European law division. In September, I was posted to the Permanent Representation in Brussels again, where I am responsible for the EU budget and the multiannual financial framework.
Working in the Finance Ministry’s Directorate-General for European Policy, you quickly get to know the colleagues who deal with the same issues at the Permanent Representation. Berlin and Brussels work together closely. The staff in Brussels act on the basis of instructions from Berlin, but they are in the midst of what is happening in the European Union and are thus in a position to keep colleagues in Berlin up to date on what is going on at any given moment. As I mentioned earlier, I’d already been sent to the Permanent Representation for six months in 2016 so that I would have a better understanding of how that interplay functions precisely. While my stay there was short, it left a lasting impression. You work very closely with the representatives from other Member States, the European Commission and European Parliament, which allows you to learn a lot about Germany’s role in the EU. So when the position of budgetary attaché became vacant, I didn’t hesitate to apply. The application process lasted around nine months – first within the Finance Ministry, and then at the Federal Foreign Office. For the duration of the posting, you are seconded to the Foreign Office. In addition to a security check, the posting also requires language tests in English and French.
I live in the centre of Brussels, so I can go almost everywhere on foot. This is a real advantage compared to Berlin, where I usually have to use public transport. I came to Brussels for four days in the summer to look for accommodation. This is the time when there is a lot of job fluctuation between the capitals of the other 27 Member States of the EU and Brussels. It’s up to you to find your own accommodation. But by the end of the four days I had found a lovely flat, which made it a whole lot easier for me to leave Berlin.
As I returned to Brussels only three months ago, a lot is still new and I don’t have a fixed routine yet. The Budget Committee of the Council of the European Union meets about once a week. This is the Council working group where I represent Germany’s interests on the basis of instructions regarding all aspects of the EU budget that I receive from my Berlin colleagues. In preparation for these meetings, I hold intensive discussions with the representatives of the other Member States in order to find common ground or reach compromises on the given issues. This also involves representatives of the European Commission. Once these meetings are over, it’s time to draft a telegram which is sent to inform the Federal Government, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. Outside of the meetings, I also liaise with colleagues from the Permanent Representation offices of other Member States and representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament. We exchange information, set out Germany’s position, and try to make a convincing case for the merit of our views.
One highlight over the past three months was concluding the negotiations for the EU budget for 2018. Talks between lead negotiators from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council lasted almost 18 hours. Germany’s negotiating team was led by Parliamentary State Secretary Jens Spahn. An agreement was finally reached in the early hours of 18 November 2017.
I’ve only just started my job in Brussels, and I’m really looking forward to everything that might expect us here over the three years to come. Next year, the European Commission will be presenting its proposal for the next multiannual financial framework, and in the second half of 2020, Germany will be taking over the Presidency of the Council.