The 59-year-old Corsepius spent most of the time as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief advisor for Europe and helped with that do it the infinite crises of the EU. Thanks to this longevity (and its proximity to Merkel), Corsepius has put together the most important network in Europe of all members of the federal government.
Despite his low profile (in line with the tradition of the Chancellor’s advisors, he avoids the public eye and rarely speaks to the press), insiders generally regard Corsepius as more influential in European affairs than the German Foreign Minister.
Corsepius will play a decisive role as Germany in the coming months takes over the rotating EU presidency, which falls in the middle of Merkel has called the “biggest challenge” in the history of the block.
As a trained economist who grew up in West Berlin, Corsepius began his career in the Ministry of Economics during the Helmut Kohl era and worked for some time at the International Monetary Fund in Washington.
He was assigned to the firm when Kohl was still in office, but his professional breakthrough came when Chancellor Gerhard Schröder caught the attention of an analysis he wrote about EU finances. Corsepius worked for Schröder’s EU chief adviser and took the position herself when Merkel became chancellor in 2005.
Most of Germany’s European specialists come from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Corsepius’ atypical start and background (he has a doctorate in business administration) raised him to suspicion of colleagues, some of whom still question his commitment to Europe.
“He is not a European dyed in wool,” said a long-time German EU official and described Corsepius as an “obstructionist”.
Corsepius, an ambitious young tennis player, played an important role in the early stages of the eurozone debt crisis and refused attempts by Athens and other capitals to convince Berlin to bear more of the burden of rescuing the EU-caught countries . Corsepius was also the driving force behind the “great great German nothing burger“Answer to the federalist fantasies of French President Emmanuel Macron in his famous Sorbonne speech in 2017.
The sober economist has proven ideal for Merkel, a self-trained scientist who values analytical skills. Officials who have seen the two in action over the years say Corsepius is more than an average Sherpa. “He has full confidence in Merkel,” said a senior European diplomat.
This is one of the reasons why Corsepius often draws anger from colleagues in Brussels and the national capitals. For her, he’s “Dr. No.” Regardless of whether it is about the minutiae of the EU budget or the enlargement of the EU, Corsepius has a reputation for pouring cold water onto the often frothy Brussels agenda.
Corsepius, who left Merkel’s service for four years as Secretary General of the EU Council in 2011, has deep-seated skepticism towards the Commission and is trying to strengthen the power of the executive there, his staff say. For example, he often ran into the right man of former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Martin Selmayr.
“Many in Brussels consider him too big a nationalist,” said a former colleague.
When dealing with European colleagues, Corsepius makes no secret of the fact that he is pursuing the best for Germany.
Nevertheless, his supporters argue that while Corsepius does not wear pink glasses with regard to the EU, he in no way makes him against Europe. “The future of Germany depends on the success of Europe, and he understands that,” said one.
Despite all skepticism about his commitment to Europe, Corsepius played a central role in the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty during the last German presidency. More recently, he and France have led Germany’s call for a € 500 billion debt-financed restructuring fund to help countries struggling with the economic consequences of the pandemic.
During the German Presidency, Corsepius will largely be left to compromise with skeptics of this plan, the so-called Frugal Four. The Netherlands, Denmark, Austria and Sweden refuse to structure aid as grants that do not have to be repaid and instead provide loans.
Another priority will be to create the conditions for an agreement on the EU’s seven-year budget, a goal that past EU presidencies have eluded.
Merkel is also committed to driving twin strategies that are turning European society and industry upside down: climate change and digital technology.
The German Presidency must also find a way forward with China. Relations between the EU and China have been strained by signs that Beijing is masking the extent of the threat posed by COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, the EU has postponed a planned summit with China for September, but Berlin has committed to make a new appointment.
Despite concerns about human rights violations in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the country, China remains an important trading partner, especially for Germany, which is why the search for a common EU position is a top priority.
Another challenge on Corsepius’ desk during the German Presidency will be Brexit. If the EU’s negotiations with the UK over a trade agreement are unsuccessful by the end of the year, the bloc would be subject to further economic shock.
Although Corsepius can be socially sociable, he looks just like the Prussian bureaucrat that his critics make him out to be. Corsepius is a tall, slender man with a strict demeanor. He speaks in measured tones with precise language and is not known to suffer fools.
This directness, which some call “on your face”, could prove useful in the coming months if Germany tries to save Europe from collapse. “Say what you want, at the end of the day Merkel is lucky to have him,” said a European diplomat.