Newsletter 17/2011 - Our South East Europe
Efficient parliaments in South East Europe, tool for moving the region forward
Parliamentary democracy in theory is seen as a mechanism for reducing democratic deficits of a society. Such a system is meant to ensure equal opportunities to all societal groups, transparency of legislation passing and, most importantly, accountability of the executive powers.
Under a parliamentary democracy, governments are subject to an ongoing monitoring and review by parliaments as legislators that are elected by the people in the election process. One of the key advantages of parliamentary systems, as commonly deemed, is that it provides for easier and faster adoption of legislation, due to dependency of executive authorities on support of legislators.
Countries from South East Europe (SEE), on their way to join the European Union (EU), are constantly adjusting their parliamentary practices to address the challenges of advanced democratic processes set by the Union.
Yolanda Valassopoulou, desk officer for regional cooperation at the Enlargement Strategy Unit of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Enlargement, recalls that “the smooth and efficient functioning of a parliament is the founding stone of democratic systems of governance; it is also at the core of the Copenhagen political criteria guiding the progress of potential candidates and candidate countries towards the EU”.
“The Commission closely monitors parliamentary developments in SEE, and reports on it in its annual Enlargement Package, which includes the Enlargement Strategy and challenges, the Progress Reports and, this year, the Opinion on Serbia's application for membership in the EU.”
There are various instruments and mechanisms of control available to parliaments in general, that are adopted as regular practices in parliaments in SEE countries. They involve:
- addressing questions to the government, thus monitoring government’s actions,
- reviewing existing and draft legislation through parliamentary committees,
- examining the use of funds and monitoring their efficiency,
- granting or withdrawing confidence in the government, etc
All these instruments are designed and used to ensure that the executive power, its organisations and agencies comply with the legal framework of a country, thus building confidence of citizens.
While commenting on the state of play with functioning of parliaments in SEE, Valassopoulou assesses that the overall picture can be seen as a positive one: potential candidates and candidate countries mostly have functioning democratic parliaments – which should not be taken for granted, as this was not the case just a few years ago.
“This, in itself, merits a positive mention. In some of the enlargement countries, parliaments function in an efficient and effective manner, smoothing the way for the enlargement-related reforms and ensuring their timely adoption.”
“However, this is not the whole story”, says Valassopoulou and adds that the initial positive picture leaves a lot of room for improvement.
“References such as "insufficient", "hampered ability", "urgent steps are needed" are some of the phrases used to describe the work of parliaments in the region in the region in this year's Enlargement Package published by the Commission.. This is even more serious when problems in the functioning of the parliament hinder the adoption of the necessary EU-related reforms, thus creating delays in the countries' progress towards the EU.”
Fatos Beja, member of Albanian Parliament, underlines that the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure do guarantee the function of the Albanian Parliament in full accordance with the best European practices in making laws, controlling the executive authorities, offering vast parliamentary action to the opposition and a high level of transparency to the public.
“In Albania, the opposition has actually had more seats than any other opposition during the last 20 years, and a good number of experienced deputies in the governance of the country. It could have an important impact in parliamentary activities.”
“Unfortunately, its political tactics after the  elections consisted in boycotting the parliament for 6 months, and for 18 months refusing to vote and blocking the laws necessary to reform the justice and to improve the codes asking the 3/5 of the assembly.”
In his mind, this policy affected the parliamentary control over the government and the real weight of the opposition in the political life.
Still, Beja is an optimist when it comes to improvements in the functioning of the Albanian Parliament.
“After the reaffirmation of the ruling coalition at the local elections (held in May 2011), the opposition is participating in the vote as well as in addressing questions and doing interpellations every week, which gives hope that the normal traditional parliament function will be restored.”
There are many similarities in terms of difficulties and problems that parliaments of the SEE countries face in their attempts to transition from earlier, outdated practices, to the ones required by the EU. Still each country has its specific political, economic and social environment in which they are attempting to accommodate the best democratic principles.
“In the end, it is not a question of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full: each glass is different, but every drop added to it brings it a step closer to being full”, concludes Valassopoulou.
“The Commission's Progress Reports aim at giving further impetus to the potential candidates and candidate countries to ensure that their efforts in all EU reform-related areas will be successful, including in the functioning of parliament.”