Are right-wing governments the European future
Future of Europe"We have to strengthen democracy"
Stephan Detjen: Monsieur le Président, in Germany the Union and the SPD are now entering into coalition negotiations. The SPD chairman Martin Schulz told his party yesterday that the French President Emmanuel Macron called him before the SPD party congress and encouraged him to promote the formation of a government and a grand coalition in Germany. Macron needs Germany as a partner for its European agenda. Does the fate of Emmanuel Macron and his "en marche" movement, of which you are also a member, now depend on the formation of a government, on the formation of the grand coalition in Germany?
Francois de Rugy: We made a clear decision with our President Emmanuel Macron, which was confirmed in the presidential and parliamentary elections: We want to revitalize Europe's political architecture. And in order to be able to renew European politics, we need a strong German partner, a strong Franco-German partnership.
Emmanuel Macron has put proposals on the table that point in the right direction and that can be taken up by a future German government. They can also play a role in the understanding between the Union and the SPD. Of course, once a government has been formed in Germany, one then has to hold concrete talks - as we did between the majorities in the Bundestag and the French National Assembly. A new government of Angela Merkel must then work with the government of Emmanuel Macro on the renewal of the construction of Europe.
"We need a government capable of governing"
Detjen: Mr Schäuble, can this strong partner that Emmanuel Macron and the President of the French Parliament want only appear in Germany in the form of a grand coalition? We have just seen that the Bundestag has agreed with a large majority on a very European agenda, a resolution on the anniversary of the Elysée Treaty. Can't Germany be a stable partner for France without a grand coalition?
Wolfgang Schäuble: In our meeting I also pointed out to the President that at the SPD party congress, if I followed it correctly, it was a strong argument for the narrow majority in favor of starting coalition negotiations that one needs a government capable of acting in Germany, to further promote Franco-German cooperation and European unification.
We now have something substantial with the resolution. But it is very clear: In our parliamentary system of government, we also need a government that is capable of acting. It is therefore a good thing that coalition negotiations are now starting, and we hope that we will soon have a government in Germany.
"The European Parliament expresses the will of the citizens of Europe"
Detjen: A few cornerstones and goals of a possible grand coalition are already emerging. Both sides, the Union and the SPD, have placed European policy at the top of their exploratory paper - including the goal of strengthening the European Union's ability to act. Specifically, they said that the European Parliament in particular should be strengthened.
What does that mean for the national parliaments? - Question to the President of the French Assemblée Nationale and the President of the Bundestag alike. - Are the national parliaments in Germany and France ready to hand over powers to the European Parliament?
de Rugy: I have always been a supporter of the political construction of Europe and I therefore believe that the European Parliament must play an important role in this construction. Because the European Parliament expresses the will of the citizens of Europe. It is therefore only logical that you have to strengthen the European Parliament if you want to strengthen European politics. There are issues, such as trade agreements, in which parliaments overlap and where it is not clear who has to decide what. This then leads to conflicts.
We have seen, for example, that a regional parliament like the Belgian one can block a decision by the European Parliament. It can't work that way. Of course there are internal affairs in which the national parliaments protect their competences. That goes without saying. But there can also be a direct exchange between parliaments such as the Bundestag and the Assemblée Nationale.
That is also the aim of our resolution: if, for example, one wants to harmonize certain taxes such as corporate taxes, then this must be done through negotiations between the governments and cooperation with the parliaments and their committees. That is why I believe that we have to move forward on both feet: that of the European Parliament and European democracy, and that of the national parliaments and their competences.
To this end, it must of course be made clear that the EU has competences with the European Parliament and the Commission and competences that remain with the countries with their parliaments and governments.
"You will not be able to exclude the budget responsibility of the national parliaments"
Detjen: If I pass the question on to the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, I would like to focus again on this exploratory paper by the Union and the SPD. Specifically, it is proposed to develop the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a European Monetary Fund, and then it is said that it should be a parliamentary-controlled monetary fund that should be anchored in Union law. Which parliament, Mr Schäuble, would be best suited to exercise this control? The European Parliament or the national parliaments, the Bundestag in Germany?
Schäuble: As long as we have the European treaties as they are, the national parliaments are the decisive parliaments when it comes to budget issues. This is stipulated in European law. And I also believe that we agree that we must make European cooperation much more efficient on the basis of the European treaties in force. That is why we have to find cooperation between the national parliaments and the European Parliament for the European monetary system in order to find stronger parliamentary control. But the budget responsibility of the national parliaments cannot and should not be excluded.
I wouldn't advise it either. Because we have seen whoever tries to play off Europe, European unification, against people's need for national identity, will ultimately not strengthen Europe, but weaken it.
"We don't want to standardize everything"
Detjen: We are now talking about various papers that mark the path to a European future in reforms of the European Union: on the one hand, the papers that emerged from the negotiations on the formation of a German government, on the other hand, the resolution that the Bundestag will pass today. When I look at this paper - you have both already mentioned it - it is specifically about what is mentioned there, a convergence of legislative procedures in Germany and France to implement EU directives. It then literally means: "The aim is to achieve uniform implementation."
Why do you still need national parliaments if they implement EU law in a uniform manner? Are you not giving up the leeway that is necessary for self-confident parliaments, especially in a diverse Europe?
de Rugy: No, I do not think so. It is our common conviction to bring the approaches in Germany and France closer together. We don't want to standardize everything. Germany has its peculiarities that differ from those of France. But there are connections. In France we have three departments in Alsace and Lorraine, in which the law is still German, and the people there want to keep these special features. So you can see that it is perfectly normal to preserve specifics, and at the same time we can work on aligning our legislation where we think it makes sense.
That can be in the area of tax law without unifying all taxes.
Local taxes in Germany and France traditionally work very differently. But if we look at corporate taxation, we can of course standardize it.
"It is our responsibility to win back the voice of populist and national voters"
Detjen: A year ago we looked with great concern at the upcoming elections in France - first the presidential election, then the parliamentary elections - because of the strength of the extreme right, the Marine LePen movement. The fact is today that the movement of Marine Le Pen, the Front National, does not even have faction strength in the French parliament, while here in the Bundestag the tough, Euro-critical national conservatives have become the third strongest force, possibly the new opposition leader. Mr President of the National Council, Mr President of the Bundestag, what advice. What experiences were they able to exchange on dealing with such fundamental opposition critical of Europe? [*]
de Rugy: The French have no lessons to teach other European countries in dealing with nationalist and populist movements. In France, the Front National has participated in elections for more than 30 years and has repeatedly received many votes at all levels. In 1986, the Front National entered the Assemblée nationale for the first time in parliamentary groups. That was the first time we had proportional representation in the Fifth Republic.
So this is an old phenomenon in France and we cannot give a silver bullet for how to deal with it. Only one thing is out of the question: parties with a correspondingly high number of votes are represented in the National Assembly. According to the current electoral law, they need alliances for this. That is why the Front National has only a few MPs at the moment.
I myself believe that it is our responsibility to win back the votes of populist and nationalist voters and to strengthen democracy. This, too, is a shared responsibility that cannot be met alone. There is no question that these forces are directed against democracy. That is why we have to strengthen democracy. That is why we in France campaigned for change, including in the political system and institutions.
I have also made changes in the Assemblée Nationale in order to regain citizens' trust and solve problems that preoccupy voters. Often the impression arises that we cannot solve problems. That plays into the hands of the populists. The fact that Emmanuel Macron became president has to do with the fact that people had the impression that the previous president and the traditional parties failed to solve the economic and social problems, to reform the education and health system, and also the question to answer for a better functioning of the European system. I think these are the issues on which we need to move forward if we are to push back the populist forces.
Schäuble: What we have to do here and what we do, what we agree on, is: First, accept that people disagree. That's why there are different opinions. And in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority. The majority for Franco-German cooperation and for Franco-German engagement is a large one in Germany.
And the lessons that we have been able to draw from French politics, especially in the last few months, are: if you resolutely go your own way and resolutely advocate strengthening Europe, promoting Franco-German cooperation, you can then also work with one Majority against a minority can enforce his policies, and we are determined to do so. Incidentally, we (four parliamentary groups in the Bundestag) have proven that with the draft of this resolution.
Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.
[*] Editor's note: We made a mistake in the original publication of this interview. When mixing the recording with the translator's sound, the last question from Stephan Detjen to the parliamentary presidents was accidentally exchanged for a question that had already been asked. We corrected that afterwards.
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