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Lawmakers hopeful Franco-German parliament can smooth intergovernmental relations

Five years ago, Germany and France created the world’s first binational parliament, but as relations between the countries’ two leaders remain rocky, lawmakers remain hopeful it can stop the situation from worsening

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2024

This has become even more important when relations between Paris and Berlin have soured, with President Emmanuel Macron (Renaissance, Renew) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD, S&D) publicly sparring over support for Ukraine.
This has become even more important when relations between Paris and Berlin have soured, with President Emmanuel Macron (Renaissance, Renew) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD, S&D) publicly sparring over support for Ukraine.

by Nick Alipour

Five years ago, Germany and France created the world’s first binational parliament, but as relations between the countries’ two leaders remain rocky, lawmakers remain hopeful it can stop the situation from worsening.

On 25 March 2019, Germany’s former finance minister and then-president of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schauble, shook the hand of his French counterpart, Richard Ferrand, sealing the creation of the self-proclaimed first binational parliament.

It was the culmination of years of ever-closer institutional intertwinement, a world away from previous whispers of a confederation, but overall designed to prevent the Franco-German engine from splintering.

Five years on, the institution’s profile remains low, and relations between Paris and Berlin seem even more fraught. But lawmakers involved in the initiative hang onto the hope that it will be a secret hinge in relations, wrestling power from two increasingly self-centred governments.

“The base-level understanding [between lawmakers] is what the Franco-German relationship needs more of right now to find compromises in Europe,” Chantal Kopf, lead MP on European affairs of the German Greens and assembly member, told Euractiv.

The parliament was prominent in the second Franco-Germany Friendship treaty, signed in 2019 by then-chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU, EPP) and French President Emmanuel Macron (Renaissance, Renew) in the presence of EU leadership duo Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.

Since then, a rotating set of 100 MPs, Assemblee National and the Bundestag meet for joint plenary sessions twice a year.

Its agenda includes supervising compliance with Franco-German treaties, synchronising views on European affairs through ministerial hearings, debates on implementing bilateral and EU laws and tabling joint policy proposals.

More accountability for the EU’s engine

While progress on some of those points may be up for debate, lawmakers stress that it has provided unprecedented channels for talks independent of governments, which were virtually non-existent in the past.

This has become even more important when relations between Paris and Berlin have soured, with President Emmanuel Macron (Renaissance, Renew) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD, S&D) publicly sparring over support for Ukraine.

The deterioration has been traced to animosities between leaders, a widening cultural gap, and differences in EU policy as Germany is adjusting after years of relying on the United States for defence and Russia for cheap energy.

This is also an issue for Brussels, as EU legislation is harder to implement when Berlin and Paris disagree.

However, due to the assembly, “relations are no longer exclusively characterised by governments and civil society,” Nils Schmid (SPD, S&D), sitting co-chair of the assembly, told Euractiv.

Stefan Seidendorf, deputy director of the Franco-German Institute (DFI) think tank, pointed to the impact of the assembly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early 2020, when the countries’ interior ministers decided to close the bilateral border, cutting off the lifeline between the EU’s largest economies, the Franco-German assembly staged a hearing with then-interior ministers Horst Seehofer and Christophe Castaner.

Seidendorf told Euractiv that lawmakers’ pressure over the Franco-German impact of border checks ultimately influenced their abolition. He called the assembly’s flagging of Franco-German issues to governments a “visible achievement.”

The assembly also offers space to explore common ground as lawmakers work in committees on joint policy proposals, even those who are not “Franco-German pros”, Seidendorf said.

“The committee on EU reform is an example where this collaboration can make a difference,” said Kopf.

As another round of enlargement looms, France and Germany would ultimately need to reach an understanding, and “it helps when lawmakers start getting on the same page, ” she added.

Actual power missing

However, despite alleged success in broadening the relationship, government relations still overshadow Franco-German matters.

“France and Germany show no sign of agreement on the role of nuclear energy in clean energy,” headlines read after last year’s testy hearing of business ministers Robert Habeck and Bruno Le Maire, ignoring the binational collaboration.

Media coverage of the four-hour-plus sessions remains low.

Kopf noted that a more ambitious vision, with some binding powers for the exchange-focused parliament and more committees on critical topics, is needed to make a greater difference.

This all contributes to a situation in which the dedication of the assembly lawmakers may drop, said Seidendorf.

As French co-chair Brigitte Klinkert (Renaissance, Renew) told Euractiv, keeping the “density of initiatives between us lawmakers” in the assembly going is vital to keep the Franco-German friendship “alive” right now.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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