German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French Prime Minister Jean Castex are taking part in a hearing of the Franco-German parliamentary assembly on Monday, where the COVID pandemic and its impact on Europe are high up on the agenda.
The two leaders and the deputies are also discussing a range of topics including climate, refugee, foreign and economic policies.
The assembly — which is supposed to meet on a biannual basis, once in Paris and once in Berlin — is taking place virtually this year due to the ongoing coronavirus health emergency.
Speaking during the meeting, Merkel said that the German government is not in favor of tightening restrictions for travelers entering the country at the moment. She also opposed imposing the kind of border controls that were temporarily introduced last year to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Border controls are "something very hard," she told the assembly, stressing that she believes "something like this should not be repeated."
The German chancellor called for closer regional coordination in Europe to fight against the pandemic.
"We are also aware that these infection control measures can mean a litmus test for our Europe without borders," she said.
"As partners, we also address common challenges together," Merkel added, referring to France.
Merkel on supporting France in Sahel
Merkel also spoke about some of the foreign policy challenges facing the two countries, including the situation in Mali. Last week, 12 German soldiers stationed in the African nation as part of a UN mission were injured after a suicide attack.
The soldiers have been brought back to Germany and are now being treated in hospitals in Ulm and Koblenz.
Merkel called for greater international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the conflict-ravaged country.
"In the coming years, we will have to bring all these missions together and coordinate them," she said.
"We are ready to continue to support France," Merkel added, stressing that Paris has been shouldering a large part of the burden of ensuring security in the country.
France has around 5,100 troops deployed in the Sahel region, fighting against terrorist groups, some of whom have pledged allegiance to the "Islamic State" (IS) or al Qaida. French Premier Castex expressed his solidarity with Germany in view of the attack.
Push for a new EU-Russia summit?
Merkel also reiterated her intention to organize an EU-Russia summit.
"Relations between Russia and the European Union are really not good at the moment. But even during the Cold War, people talked to each other," Merkel said, adding that not speaking to each other is "not conducive to solving problems."
At the EU summit in Brussels last week, eastern European members of the bloc opposed Merkel's push for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Merkel now said that the concern at the EU summit had been "that we might not be able to appear united."
"A summit with Putin would have to be prepared very intensively," she said, adding that it would be necessary to address "all the issues that concern us and on which we also want to cooperate."
Referring to the ongoing debate concerning EU member Hungary, Merkel warned of a split in the 27-member bloc.
Hungary has faced fierce criticism in Europe for a new law that will ban showing content about LGBTQ issues to children. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government argues it is aimed at protecting children but critics say it links pedophilia to homosexuality.
Merkel said the "vast majority" of the 27 EU heads of government had made clear to the Hungarian government how problematic the law is.
"But the possibilities for action are definitely limited," she added, referring to sanctions and referring to an ongoing case at the European Court of Justice.
What is the Franco-German parliamentary assembly?
The assembly comprises of a total of 100 members of parliament, 50 from Germany's Bundestag and 50 from France's lower house of parliament (Assemblee Nationale).
The body was set up in 2019 and is designed to implement the so-called Aachen treaty signed by Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron at the end of January 2019.
To this end, it can make proposals concerning Franco-German relations and to cement the special bond between the two countries.
The importance of this panel is "very high for Franco-German relations," Wolfgang Schäuble, president of the Bundestag, told dpa news agency.
"The institutional cooperation achieved in this legislative term alone is unique in Europe and worldwide," he added.
Nevertheless, the body can neither make binding decisions nor does it have its own budget sovereignty.
Every parliamentary group of the Bundestag and the Assemblee Nationale will have at least one seat in the Franco-German assembly. There are currently 15 factions represented in the body, from both parliaments.
sri/rt (dpa, AFP)