Newsletter 7/2010 - In focus

PARLIAMENTARY COOPERATION, by Hannes Swoboda, Member of European Parliament

South East Europe bears responsibility for advancing its parliamentary democracy systems

The region of South East Europe continues to be in a very fragile status. Many conflicts could be solved, many remain unresolved. Too much hopes and expectations are directed towards the European Union. Yes,  Europe can help and perhaps it could do more in some cases. But, to be frank, this is not our main business. We have an interest in stability and development in our neighbourhood. But much more must come from the region itself. And this is primarily the responsibility of politicians. And, in developed democracies, this means also the responsibility of parliamentarians. Unfortunately, there is no long-term tradition of parliamentary democracy in the countries of the region. Without exaggerating this tradition in the countries of the European Union, there is a longer experience with the rights and duties of Parliaments and its members.

Parliaments are an integral part of democracies. And with all the – justified and unjustified – criticism of party politics, without parties there are no functioning parliaments and without functioning parliaments there are no functioning democracies. With all its deficiency, democracy is the only guaranty for progress in the interest of the people. All this seems to be self evident. Nevertheless, in many countries of the region these thoughts are not part of the mainstream of national politics. This has always been of great concern of those members of the European Parliament who were engaged in and for the region of South East Europe. Therefore, we initiated a closer cooperation between our parliaments. And this should not only involve parliamentarians but also officials.

I must confess that there were many successful meetings, but overall there are not many visible results in the region. In some countries, the parliamentarians are permanently overruled by party leaders who want to keep the monopoly of power. In others, the parliamentarians do not find ways of constructive communications and dialogues with each others. The limits and boundaries of the parties cannot be overcome. Some do not find a proper role in controlling the government and its members. In the worst case, all several deficiencies collide. I do not see how the countries of the region can join the EU without a functioning parliamentary system. This is not a formal requirement, but, the work that all the countries must do to prepare themselves cannot be done without an efficient parliamentary work. So, de facto, a well functioning parliament is a criterion for membership.

Let us think how we can improve the exchange of ideas and experiences concerning the duties and rights of parliaments, if the process of enlargement should proceed in the region. And I definitely want the enlargement process to continue in a smooth way.

Hannes Swoboda has been a member of the European Parliament since 1996 and vice-president of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with South East Europe. Much of his parliamentary work is focused on the Balkans, the Middle East, Turkey and the Maghreb. Prior to this, Swoboda was a councillor at the Vienna assembly and municipal council. He also worked at the Vienna Chamber of Labour and was director of the department for economics, health and housing policy. Swoboda holds a degree in law and economics from the University of Vienna. He is a member of the steering committee of A Soul for Europe, an initiative that is building an international network based in Berlin.


Hannes Swoboda, Member of the European Parliament (Photo: courtesy of Mr. Swoboda)

Hannes Swoboda, Member of the European Parliament (Photo: courtesy of Mr. Swoboda)