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February 2011

 File n°61 

Friendship Groups

 

 

 

 

 

 

    Key Points

    The friendship groups of the National Assembly bring together M.P.s who have a specific interest in a particular foreign country. Their first aim is to establish links between French and foreign parliamentarians, but they also play a role in France’s foreign policy and in the international influence of the National Assembly.

    They must be officially recognized by the Bureau of the National Assembly and must also meet certain conditions. When it is not possible to set up a friendship group with a State which is internationally recognized, the Bureau may consent to the creation of an international study group which has exactly the same administrative and financial means.

    The main activity of the friendship groups is the setting-up of visits to the partner Parliament and the hosting of foreign parliamentary delegations. Such activities must be authorized in advance by the Bureau of the National Assembly, which establishes their annual programme. The friendship groups may also receive foreign personalities and act as a base for decentralized or inter-parliamentary cooperation activities.

See also file 59

 

    I. – ROLE AND MEANS OF THE OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED GROUPS

    1. – Role

    The traditional role of a friendship group is, as its name suggests, to create a network of personal links between French parliamentarians, their foreign counterparts and the main actors in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country in question. The exchange of information which occurs as a result of such links is a welcome addition to that which is already gained through diplomatic channels.

    Above and beyond this first role, the friendship groups are, more and more often, linked to France’s foreign policy, as the trips they make or the visits they host can contribute to relaunching or enriching the relations with the country in question. Similarly, when the President of the Republic travels abroad, the frequent presence of the chairman or chairmen of the friendship groups concerned, clearly illustrates the importance given to the parliamentary dimension in bilateral relations.

    In addition, friendship groups play a role of increasing importance in the international relations policy of the National Assembly. Thus they may take part in the hosting of high-ranking foreign VIPs or in the organization of international symposiums. Friendship groups are also, more and more frequently, asked to act as a base for inter-parliamentary cooperation programmes carried out by the National Assembly for the benefit of foreign Parliaments.

    In practice the only thing which distinguishes an international study group from a friendship group is the name, as they are both subject to the same rules and benefit from the same funds as the friendship groups. The friendship groups and the international study groups together make up the category referred to as ‘officially recognized groups’, as their setting-up is subject to the consent of the Bureau of the National Assembly.

    2. – Means

    Each officially recognized group has an administrative secretary who is appointed from among the civil servants of the National Assembly, and who has expressed his voluntary agreement to take on such a task in addition to his/her normal administrative work. The role of the administrative secretary is to assist the chairman in all aspects of the running of the group. He/she is in charge, in particular, of the activities of the group (including hosting visits and travelling), of the sending of invitations and the writing-up of minutes.

    Each officially recognized group is also provided with financial means. Each year this funding enables the financing, within the limits of the rules set out below, of trips and hosting costs agreed to in advance by the Bureau upon the proposal of its International Activities Delegation, as well as of receptions in honour of ambassadors or foreign personalities.

    II. – RULES FOR OFFICIAL RECOGNITION

    It is necessary to distinguish between the criteria in use and the procedure being followed.

    1. – Criteria for official recognition

    Since 1981, three criteria have been laid down for the official recognition of friendship groups:

    - Existence of a Parliament;

    - Existence of diplomatic relations with France;

    - Membership of the country to the U.N. It must, however, be taken into account that absence of the final criterion has not prohibited the setting-up of friendship groups with certain countries (such as Switzerland, which only became a member of the U.N. in 2002) and that it is traditional for a France-Quebec friendship group to be recognized.

    The concept of international study groups (GEVI) was set up in 1981 to provide a framework to fit the status of countries which did not fulfil at least one of the three conditions of principle to permit the establishment of a friendship group. Even if there are several long-standing friendship groups which do not fulfil these three conditions, the idea of the GEVI is a useful way to express a change in the way these countries are considered in the light of developments taking place there. The title of GEVI is only given to groups linked to sovereign states which are internationally recognized. There are only two exceptions to this rule: the GEVI on Taiwan and that on the Autonomous Palestinian Territories.

    2. – Procedures for official recognition

    The rules set down by the Bureau concerning official recognition are the following:

    - No friendship group can be set up without the prior consent of the Bureau;

    - At its first meeting (see below) the delegation examines the list of friendship groups which were officially recognized during the previous Parliament and proposes its renewal, with or without modifications and the Bureau rules on this proposal.

    The delegation then examines the requests for official recognition which were made during the Parliament by the M.P.s and refers the matter for advice, if it judges it necessary, to the Foreign Affairs Committee. When dealing with a new international study group, the referral to the Foreign Affairs Committee is obligatory and its advice is always followed.

    III. – PROCEDURE FOR THE SETTING-UP OF FRIENDSHIP GROUPS AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW TERM OF PARLIAMENT

    The successive stages of this procedure are the following:

    - At its first meeting of the new term of office, the International Activities Delegation of the Bureau confirms the rules applicable to officially recognized groups, draws up the list of such groups (beginning with those recognized during the previous term of office) and carries out, according to the rule of proportional representation, the numerical distribution of the chairmanships between the political groups. There are four large geographical areas (Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia-Oceania);

    - The representatives of the political groups are then convened by the Chairman of the delegation and they carry out the distribution of the chairmanships, country by country;

    - In reply to a request made by the Chairman of the delegation, the political groups transmit the names of their members holding the chairmanships which have been attributed to their group. It should be made clear that an M.P. may only hold the chairmanship of one friendship group;

    - The M.P.s are then requested to make known the officially recognized groups to which they wish to belong, by filling out a form;

    - The chairmen of the officially recognized groups then receive a list of the members of their group. It is then their responsibility, with the help of the administrative secretary who has been appointed to their group, to convene the opening meeting.

    IV. – APPOINTMENT OF THE BUREAU MEMBERS OF THE OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED GROUPS

    The bureau of a friendship group includes, in addition to the chairman, several deputy chairmen and several parliamentary secretaries.

    The number of deputy chairmen is decided by both the total number of members of the friendship group and by the numbers in the political groups in the National Assembly. If the number of members of such political groups goes beyond a certain threshold, then the group is entitled to additional deputy chairmen.

    However the number of parliamentary secretaries, usually between 6 and 10, depends entirely on the number of members in the friendship group.

    An M.P. may only hold one chairmanship and a maximum of deputy chairmanships of officially recognized groups which varies according to the size of his political group. The ceiling for this limit is higher for the members of groups whose number is below a certain threshold.

    V. – PRESENTATION OF THE ACTIVITIES OF THE OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED GROUPS AND THE RULES WHICH GOVERN THEM

    The following is an overall presentation of the main types of activity carried out by the officially recognized groups and the rules which govern them.

    1. – Visits paid and received

    The core activities carried out by the officially recognized groups are made up of visits to the countries in question and the hosting of delegations from the partner Parliament. Such activities are expensive and as such, they are regulated by rules drawn up by the Bureau and confirmed at the beginning of each Parliament:

    - The number of visits paid and received is limited to a single exchange (one visit paid and one received) per group during the same term of Parliament, except for countries bordering France. In practice, the real number of visits paid and received takes into account the resources available.

    - The number of M.P.s who can travel is limited to 7 in Europe and 6 outside of Europe with this number being reduced further to 4 for visits to far-off countries. The same limits apply to the numbers in delegations hosted in France. For each of these trips a pre-established distribution of places between the political groups, is decided upon by the Bureau.

    - The expenses incurred during the visits and the hosting are divided up according to the following rule: the visiting delegation pays for the travel costs necessary to get to the host country which, in turn, looks after all expenses during the stay. It is, nonetheless, possible, when the rules applied by the partner Parliament make it necessary, to follow another system of financing whereby the visiting delegation covers all the expenses relating to the trip.

    - All requests either to make or receive a visit must be approved by the International Activities Delegation and then, by the Bureau. In practice, the chairmen of the friendship groups and of the GEVI are asked, at the end of the year, to make their wishes known. Before requesting permission for a trip, the group must be sure that the partner Parliament is prepared to receive it and, where necessary, to cover the corresponding expenses. The requests must also follow a rule of alternation between visits paid and received. The delegation draws up a draft programme of visits to be paid and received and particularly takes into account, the last exchanges carried out, the level of activity within the group and the context of the diplomatic and parliamentary relations with the country in question.

    - The visits hosted in France are usually divided into two parts over a period of three to six days. The first part takes place in Paris where parliamentary and ministerial political meetings are organized, and is usually followed by a second part, outside of Paris, very often in the constituency of the chairman or the deputy chairman, who use it as a way to have the main achievements of their region highlighted. These programmes always attempt to take into account the wishes of the visiting delegations, as well as the context of the economic and cultural relations with the country in question.

    - The programmes for the visits by French M.P.s abroad are also based on the same broad principles. Nonetheless, there are two major exceptions: exchanges with Germany and the United Kingdom. These two exchanges, which take place every year and are usually limited to two or three days, are mainly given over to working meetings on one or more themes of common interest which have been decided upon in advance.

    - Reports are published concerning trips abroad by French friendship groups, in the collection called “Information Documents of the National Assembly”.

    In addition, the chairman of officially recognized groups can request expenses to cover receptions organized in honour of foreign ambassadors in France, foreign parliamentarians, members of the executive or other personalities from the country in question, who are visiting France.

    2. – Meetings and various contacts with foreign or french personalities

    Meetings with ambassadors, diplomats from the French Foreign Ministry, French or foreign specialists on the country in question, as well as the leaders of associations active in the country, can all help to improve the knowledge of the members of the group and contribute to binding the links between France and the country in question more closely.

    3. – Participation in the policy of inter-parliamentary cooperation

    The chairmen of the friendship groups, who are in good place, by their very position, to understand the needs of the partner Parliaments, can initiate cooperation activities to be carried out by the National Assembly. Whatever happens, they are systematically invited to participate in such activities, whether they be multilateral or bilateral. These could include receptions for foreign M.P.s or parliamentary civil servants who are visiting Paris or participation in training or information missions carried out in a foreign Parliament.

    4. – Decentralized Cooperation

    To provide a broader scope to the links created by means of the friendship or GEVI group, encouragement is given to the setting-up of relations between local French and foreign public authorities situated in the constituency of the chairman or of members of the group and local public authorities in the constituencies of members of the relevant group. This type of decentralized cooperation can in particular take the form of twinning between towns of similar sizes.

    This list of the activities of the officially recognized groups is certainly not exhaustive. The chairmen may take whatever initiative they feel appropriate to carry out the objectives of the group. In the countries in question, the area of the promotion of the French language may also be one which is particularly supported by the friendship groups.