Newsletter 7/2010 - From Brussels angle
INTERVIEW with Ulrike Lunacek, Member of European Parliament
Enhanced parliamentary cooperation in South
Ms Lunacek, what are the key advantages that regional parliamentary cooperation can bring to citizens in South
The advantages of regional parliamentary cooperation for citizens of the region are mainly to be found in the fact that parliamentary cooperation may and should increase the control of the parliaments over the executive and increase involvement of citizens into both the legislative and the scrutiny processes. Parliamentary cooperation is a challenge at two levels: Firstly, in states that do not have a long tradition of democratic scrutiny and independent parliamentary work (of opposition as well as government parties) takes time to build. Secondly, in the era of globalization and decision-making above the nation-state level, the legislative branch of a democracy and thereby the civic control of governments is increasingly at stake. Regional parliamentary cooperation represents a way to strengthen legislative work and influence of citizens at regional level and beyond national issues.
In addition, parliamentary cooperation may decrease the elitist character of parts of the European Union (EU) integration process. One of the main objectives of regional parliamentary cooperation is to contribute to the strengthening of democratic efficiency and effectiveness, as well as bringing EU structures closer to the region. This is important to citizens and civil society of the region, since the EU integration process is mainly shaped by political and economic elites. With parliamentary cooperation, the possibility of democratic control and citizens’ involvement is increased by means of parliamentary exchange between former and current EU candidate countries as well as by enhancing interaction of parliaments with the civil societies in the region. I would like to put special emphasis here of the involvement of female politicians in parties and parliaments, and the need to increase numbers in order to strive towards equal representation of women. Good practices can be exchanged by regional cooperation schemes and support empowerment of women at all levels of political decision making.
In general, we might say that the exchange of knowledge and parliamentary cooperation strengthens the legislative branch by building on existing experience. This becomes additionally valuable when considering the young democratic history of the region and the fact that the legislative branch in South East Europe has limited experience to rely on – the exchange between parliaments may help to overcome existing limits.
Could you explain the links between regional parliamentary cooperation and individual countries’ EU agendas?
The first and main link is of course the huge pile of legislation which has to be adopted in the course of EU integration by each future member state. This represents a big challenge to the control mechanisms of a parliament when revising and commenting on legislation. Strengthening parliament and also civil society as well as independent media in this process may in each country help increase the ability of the legislative organs to push for the adoption of EU-conforming standards as well as oversee sometimes too rapid and too hasty harmonization with the acquis.
Each EU integration agenda of the countries in the region includes one or more priorities concerning increased transparency or enhanced democratic control. In case of
Given the difficult economic situation, what do you see as priorities for the parliaments in South
I consider the fight against corruption and the strengthening of the jurisdiction main priorities for the parliaments in the region. From the soon-to-be EU member
The economic crisis in the region has increased poverty and unemployment and has had a direct impact on citizens’ lives in South East Europe. In addition to the fight against corruption and strengthening of democratic institutions, it should be a priority of the parliaments in the region to ensure the “human character” of measures against financial and economic crisis by making sure they have clear long-term objectives and no negative short-term social and ecological impacts.
What are the biggest challenges for South
Empowering civil society and independence of media are essential to creating an atmosphere where real democracy and respect for human rights and transparency can thrive. The fight against corruption and high-level organized crime, as well as the strengthening of the judiciary, are the most important challenges in the whole region. Without strengthening democratic control, independent media and increasing transparency and efficiency, the countries in the region will not profit from EU integration, but their success will remain rather formal and will not have the expected positive effect on people's everyday lives. Furthermore, issues such as public administration reform and decentralisation are crucial in preparing the countries for future challenges.
Another challenge to be tackled are the remaining tensions between the countries in the region. EU integration is a way to overcome borders by enhancing neighbourly relations and thus decreasing the potential for conflict. For economic prosperity as well as democratic standards in the region it is necessary to overcome existing divisions and tensions between countries and enhance regional cooperation.
Further challenge is the very critical ecological situation, high level environmental pollution and lack of drinking and waste water management in many parts of the region. Here, parliamentarians are challenged to put ecological issues (and thus health and long-term sustainability) in the forefront of their work - and learn from each other in the processes of regional cooperation.
Where do you see a role of Regional Cooperation Council when it comes to promotion of parliamentary cooperation in South
The Regional Cooperation Council’s (RCC) parliamentary cooperation programme could provide an overall framework to similar existing projects and initiatives. Different parliamentary exchange and support programmes have been implemented during the last years by various international actors in the region. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is for instance still closely supporting the parliaments in
Ulrike Lunacek has been a member of the European Parliament (EP) since 2009. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs of the Greens, EP-Rapporteur for Kosovo. Lunacek, an Austrian national, is also a Vice-Chair of the Green Parliamentary group in her home country. Prior to this post, she was member of the Austrian parliament for ten years. Ulrike Lunacek is interpreter for English and Spanish languages by profession with a BA Degree from the