Cultural representative of the federal states: A touch of grandeur on the Rhine

Status: 27.11.2022 8:09 a.m

Foreign policy is generally made in Berlin. But the federal states would also like to get involved a bit here. The office of cultural representative is suitable for this. Some really like the role.

Armin Laschet has been a lot in his political life: candidate for chancellor, prime minister, minister. He was CDU chairman, parliamentary group chairman, member of parliament. He was all that with more or less success, with more or less passion.

However, Laschet exercised one office with body and soul. And when you listen to him these days, you get the feeling that he still has it, even though Hendrik Wüst has officially held the title for a long time.

It is about the office of cultural representative of the federal states. This is about as well known as the Federal Commissioner for Efficiency in Administration. So it needs to be explained.

Culture is a national matter

In the relationship between the federal government and the federal states, hardly anything is regulated as clearly as foreign policy: that is a matter for the federal government. But in German federalism, no rule is so lofty that it is not confirmed by an exception, in this case by cultural and educational policy. Within the Federal Republic, this is a matter for the federal states, which is why there is a “representative of the Federal Republic of Germany for cultural affairs within the framework of the agreement on Franco-German cooperation”.

It has existed since 1963 – the year in which the Elysée Treaty was signed between France and the young Federal Republic. A milestone for both countries and the reconciliation after the war.

The contract also stipulates that the Commissioner for Culture represents the interests of culture and education on behalf of the German states. If the government in Paris wants to talk to its neighbors about these issues, it doesn’t have to call Berlin, but one of the German state capitals. Until the end of the year that will be Düsseldorf.

A fire, a tweet and the consequences

It is possible that these lines would not have been written either if April 15, 2019 had not happened. On that day, in the heart of Paris, on the Île de la Cité, one of the most famous buildings in Europe caught fire: the Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Laschet saw the live images on CNN. He only saw nothing on German television. This anger had to go. Laschet, cultural representative of the federal states since the beginning of 2019, vented on Twitter:

Laschet didn’t stop at scolding. He organized donations, according to the State Chancellery, about 500,000 euros came together. Since this action was accompanied by a lot of down-to-earth improvisational art, there was also criticism. But Laschet had achieved one thing: he had awakened the office of cultural representative from its slumber.

Church window as proof of friendship

Three and a half years later, at the end of October, Laschet was visibly pleased when he was able to present the first restored church windows from Paris in the presence of the acting Commissioner for Culture, his successor Wüst. Paid for with those same donations.

“Notre-Dame is closer to us here in the Rhineland than the Brandenburg Gate,” says Laschet. Of the French ambassador was also there. Living Franco-German friendship, as everyone never tired of emphasizing.

At the time, that was also more than an obligatory commitment, because in the Franco-German relationship between the Berlin traffic light and the Macron government in Paris, the house blessing was going terribly wrong. The boundaries between state and foreign policy are sometimes blurred.

In a statesmanlike pose in front of a big backdrop

The four years as Commissioner for Culture brought numerous business trips to Paris, whether to the cathedral or the presidential palace. First Laschet, then his successor Wüst, both use the dates for photos in a statesmanlike pose in front of a large backdrop. Prime Ministers don’t actually do foreign policy, but sometimes they do.

Relationships with partner regions such as Haut-de-France in France, Polish Silesia or Sichuan in China have been maintained by North Rhine-Westphalia for a long time, regardless of who currently resides in the State Chancellery. It is often said that this is regional policy and has nothing to do with secondary foreign policy by the federal states. With the Office of the Commissioner for Culture, on the other hand, it is different. There is an official mandate here.

New momentum and four years’ work

For four years, a team led by the committed office manager Dominik Fanatico pushed German-French affairs forward. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, people are proud of having saved the Franco-German primary school teacher exchange, which was about to end. From the recognition of professional qualifications to a German-French textbook to the 200th Offenbach anniversary in the Berlin Philharmonie, there is a wide range with which mutual relationships are to be nurtured and nurtured.

Above all, North Rhine-Westphalia had taken up the cause of bringing new impetus to relations with the Federal Republic’s most important neighboring state. Because for years it has been observed in both countries that the once so celebrated relationship is flagging: Whether town twinning, youth exchange or the interest in learning the respective foreign language – it could be better.

Change of staff after a fight

Wüst has been cultural representative for about a year now. Although he goes to work with a little more Westphalian sobriety, he allowed all the projects initiated under Laschet to be continued. For NRW prime ministers, European commitment is a matter of honor, no matter which party book. “We have deepened the cooperation between Germany and France,” said Wüst. He spoke of “an impressive and successful mandate”.

At the end of the year, the office will go to Anke Rehlinger (SPD), Prime Minister of Saarland. The ceremonial handover took place on Thursday evening in the Berlin State Representation of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Saarland, the smallest German area, borders on France. It’s good manners in Saarbrücken to present yourself as half French.

The Green Winfried Kretschmann, Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, went away again empty handed. In the end, however, Rehlinger was able to assert himself with the home power of the SPD prime ministers. What becomes of the initiatives from North Rhine-Westphalia now also depends on her. What remains in any case is the memory of a touch of foreign policy grandeur on the Rhine.

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