Since the beginning of Germany's Presidency of the Council of the European Union, a blue electrically powered vehicle bearing the logo of the German Presidency has been parked in front of the Reichstag in Berlin every Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This is the so called “Infomobile” of the German Bundestag. Its purpose is to inform the public about the special tasks that the German Parliament is assuming during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. “As the Bundestag, at the heart of our democracy, we play host to the national parliaments, that we want to bring together and network more closely,” said Vice President of the Bundestag Claudia Roth at the inauguration of the Infomobile for the Parliamentary Dimension of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union. But what is this all about?
Deepening the dialogue between the national parliaments and with the European Parliament
The Presidency of the Council of the European Union is traditionally held by each EU member state on a rotating basis for a six month period. The main responsibility then lies with the government of the country that assumes the Presidency. At the same time, however, there is what is known as the Parliamentary Dimension of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Parliament of the country assuming the Presidency must ensure that the role of the national parliaments within the EU and, above all, interparliamentary cooperation are strengthened. These areas were extended by the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009. In other words, the “Parliament of the Presidency” must deepen and consolidate the dialogue between national parliaments and with the European Parliament. The Parliament organises conferences and events to this end to which it invites the parliaments of all other EU member states. These meetings are intended to help MPs gain a better understanding of their counterparts’ standpoints in the other member states through direct dialogue, to deepen their networks and to create a climate of trust. Binding decisions cannot be taken by the interparliamentary conferences.
A role assumed by both the Bundestag and the Bundesrat
In the Federal Republic of Germany, this role is primarily played by the German Bundestag. As the principal organiser of the Parliamentary Dimension, it works together with the Bundesrat, which is also involved in the Parliamentary Dimension as the second chamber and body representing the German states, or Länder.
Declaration by the Parliaments of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia
The tasks that the Parliament of the Presidency assumes are manifold. Like the government of the country holding the Presidency, the Parliament presents a joint programme with the other two parliaments of the countries holding the Presidency in the run up to what is known as a “Trio Presidency”. From 1 July 2020 to 31 December 2021, Germany is part of a Trio Presidency together with Portugal and Slovenia. On 29 June 2020, President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) and President of the Bundesrat Dietmar Woidke (SPD), Minister President of the state of Brandenburg, together with President of the Portuguese Assembly of the Republic Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, President of the Slovenian National Assembly Igor Zorčič and President of the Slovenian National Council Alojz Kovšca, signed a Declaration by the Parliaments of Germany, Portugal and Slovenia “on the running of the parliamentary dimension of the Trio Presidency of the Council of the European Union”. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the signing took place during a videoconference. In their Declaration, the Presidents of the three parliaments agreed above all to promote the Conference on the Future of Europe. Wolfgang Schäuble also invited his colleagues to view the current crisis as an opportunity to make Europe more innovative and resilient.
Meeting on coronavirus, climate change and social issues
Each Parliament of the Presidency also adopts its own work programme in which it sets out its priorities and presents the interparliamentary events to be held. The Bundestag will host a whole series of conferences with Members of Parliament from the 27 member states on what they consider to be the most pressing current issues. Due to the coronavirus crisis, these meetings will, until the end of September at the very earliest, not take place as face-to-face meetings in the Bundestag, but as videoconferences.
The first of these meetings was a video conference on 27 May in which the Presidents of the Bundestag and the European Parliament, Wolfgang Schäuble and David Maria Sassoli, as well as the chairpersons of all parliamentary groups in the Bundestag and the European Parliament took part. This was followed by a digital meeting of the Presidents of the parliaments of the Trio Presidency on 29 June and an exchange of views with the College of the European Commission on 2 July in which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also took part.
Most of these events are what are known as standing conferences, which take place during each Council Presidency. These include, for example, the meeting of those responsible for foreign and security policy and the meeting of members of Parliament working on budgetary, financial and economic policy. Moreover, the Bundestag is hosting three other meetings on issues that are particularly close to the hearts of the members of the Committee on European Union Affairs – a conference on the COVID 19 pandemic and how Europe can emerge stronger from it, another conference on climate change and the EU’s common agricultural policy, as well as a conference focusing on the issue of a “social Europe”.
A new website and Twitter channel
Last but not least, the Presidency Parliament’s tasks include public relations work. To mark the start of the German Presidency, the Bundestag launched a new website at www.parleu2020.de as well as a dedicated Twitter channel, @parleu2020.de. The website, which is available in English, French and German, provides information in the form of articles, videos and podcasts about the parliamentary activities that are to take place during the Presidency. It is also a platform for live streaming conferences. Interactive activities for young people in the EU are also planned, including a quiz, puzzle and school competition. These activities will also be available to visitors who get information from the Bundestag’s Infomobile. In fact, they even stand to receive a little reward if they answer the quiz questions correctly.