General information on the parliamentary friendship groups
The German Bundestag’s political relations with the national parliaments of foreign states are cultivated by – at present – 47 bilateral and multilateral parliamentary friendship groups, including the Berlin-Taipei Parliamentary Circle of Friends. Their purpose is to promote ongoing dialogue with the parliamentary institutions of one or more partner states. Primarily, this involves exchanges of information and opinions with members of other parliaments. In parallel to these discussions with their peers, the groups also organise meetings with government and civil-society representatives. All these encounters offer numerous opportunities for the participants to discuss differing worldviews and learn from each other. Furthermore, the promotion of democratic parliamentary structures, the strengthening of human rights, contributions to the management of crises and the parliamentary scrutiny of the Federal Government’s foreign policy are all prominent in the groups’ work.
Parliamentary friendship groups are formed on a cross-party basis and do not have statutes or rules of procedure of their own. Only Members of the German Bundestag may join the parliamentary friendship groups, and no Member is allowed to join more than three groups. Joining a group reflects a Member’s special interest in relations with the partner state or states for which it is responsible. The decision to get involved in a particular parliamentary friendship group may be prompted by existing personal links, a strong concern with a particular aspect of foreign policy, the proximity of the Member’s constituency to Germany’s border with the country in question or economic and cultural ties between their constituency and the partner state. The parliamentary friendship groups are constituted anew by the Presidium at the beginning of each electoral term. When this is done, the total number of parliamentary friendship groups and their terms of reference are determined by the Council of Elders. The chairs of the parliamentary friendship groups are allocated to the parliamentary groups in line with their relative strengths, while the parliamentary groups that do not provide the chair of a group are all able to appoint one member each to its executive.
The formation of parliamentary friendship groups goes back to an initiative of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), in which Germany has been represented since 1951. The parliamentary friendship groups established by the parliaments of the IPU member states are intended to complement the IPU’s six-monthly inter-parliamentary conferences by providing opportunities for bilateral talks. The German Bundestag’s first parliamentary friendship groups were established in its 3rd electoral term (1957-1961). They included groups responsible for parliamentary relations with Africa, France, the UK, Italy and Japan. The number of parliamentary friendship groups has increased steadily over the last few electoral terms as Members of the German Bundestag have displayed ever greater interest in foreign policy. Geopolitical developments have prompted changes in the remits of the parliamentary friendship groups. Multilateral parliamentary friendship groups have been established to handle relations with the states of certain regions, while new groups have repeatedly been founded in response to political developments.
Over the years, the 28 parliamentary friendship groups active during the 10th electoral term have become 54 parliamentary friendship groups in the 18th electoral term. In addition, there is a parliamentary friendship representative for the Republic of Moldova, which is not partnered by a parliamentary friendship group.
Responsibilities and activities
The members of the parliamentary friendship groups seek to meet up as often as possible with politicians from their partner states to discuss topics and problems in which they share a common interest. This also enables them to explain and communicate German positions. Thanks to such encounters, the work done by the Members of the German Bundestag benefits from the experience of other parliaments, even if it is rare for this to become readily apparent because political decisions are influenced by so many other factors. Apart from these contacts, the parliamentary friendship groups come together to hold meetings of their members, hear lectures and conduct discussions about the political situation in their partner states. Their cooperation with the diplomatic representations in Berlin gives Members further opportunities to gather information.
In the course of an electoral term, each parliamentary friendship group is able to invite one delegation of parliamentarians from its partner country or region to Germany and send one delegation to visit its colleagues. These trips help to foster better understanding as well as deepening existing contacts. Talks are almost always marked by a very frank and informal atmosphere. The members of parliamentary friendship groups do not have to pay as much attention to the niceties of international diplomacy as government representatives. They can articulate their points of view clearly, even in difficult contexts or when discussing politically sensitive issues, such as human rights. Furthermore, they are able to speak to a broad spectrum of contacts, including the local representatives of the German political foundations and Germany’s partners in the field of development cooperation.
The members of the parliamentary friendship groups welcome many foreign guests from the fields of politics, business, academic life, culture and the media who want to learn about the political situation in Germany or the German parliamentary system and the work of the German Bundestag. The experiences these visitors gather in Germany can be very helpful, particularly for states that are just starting out on their democratic development. In this respect, the cross-party composition of the parliamentary friendship groups has an emblematic importance, since it illustrates how democratic forms of behaviour can be filled with life. The groups offer parliamentarians from young democracies vivid examples of people with radically opposed opinions presenting different points of view in a balanced way and debating issues objectively. Talks with opposition politicians can strengthen the democratic forces in the parliamentary friendship groups’ partner states. The groups are also able to contribute to the resolution of conflicts by offering the representatives of conflicting parties the opportunity to hold joint negotiations on neutral ground or with impartial mediation.
Contacting the parliamentary friendship groups
The parliamentary friendship groups do not have their own budgets and are therefore not in a position to award bursaries or grants for humanitarian initiatives. Nor are they able to carry out research for third parties or assemble information materials. However, the members of the parliamentary friendship group executives are, of course, always interested in relevant, up-to-date information about their partner states. Anyone wishing to pass on such information should write directly to the members of the groups’ executives (name of Member, Deutscher Bundestag, Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany). Inquiries can also be addressed to the Parliamentary Friendship Groups Secretariat in Division WI 3, which supports the groups in their work:
German Bundestag - Administration - Division WI 3, Platz der Republik 1, 11011 Berlin, Germany
phone: +49 30/227-34766