Newsletter 7/2010 - Guest Commentator
Former Vice President of German Bundestag and Senior Consultant
With unified parliamentary forces to forward-looking projects
A new step forward in strengthening regional parliamentary cooperation was tackled when the Speakers of Parliament at the final declaration from their last conference in Turkish Antalya in June this year proposed the establishment of a Parliamentary Assembly of the South East-European Cooperation Process (SEECP) Participating States. The decision for a more institutionalized and authorized structure is a huge challenge for the further development of the regional parliamentary diplomacy.
It was the right decision by the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) to choose regional parliamentary cooperation as an overarching theme and priority issue of its work. This is corresponding to the unique role parliaments have in a democratic society and it is recognizing their key role in the reform and European Union (EU) integration process, even if the region is still confronted with a lack of parliamentary power vis-a-vis the government.
The exchange among the parliaments in the region is characterized by an increasing quantity and quality at both regional and bilateral level. The understanding that the regional cooperation is not a way to be excluded from the EU but rather a condition of entering it became increasingly accepted. Visible signs of the successful implementation of the regional ownership strategy are the establishment of the Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in Sofia, the increasing number of initiatives coming from the region itself and the change of the role of internationals from key actors to attending supporters only.
Regional parliamentary meetings turned out to be the most successful when focused on concrete issues of common concern at committee level, in a smaller size format and in a working atmosphere. But a clear call for roundtables instead of stiff forms with reading statements is still useful! In any case, it was the right decision to continue the support to the existing pillars of regionally owned initiatives of cooperation between parliamentarians, such as the Conference of the European Integration Parliamentary Committees of States participating to the Stabilisation of Association Process (Western Balkans COSAP), the Cetinje Parliamentary Forum and the regional Women MPs exchange.
The ongoing need for capacity building, especially related to approximation of legislation with acquis communautaire (aq), as well as for MPs and parliamentary staff, is visible. The workshops focused on selected priority issues, organized by the European Parliament in cooperation with the Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South East Europe, proved to be a successful model of use of the EU expertise. One lesson learned from the huge offer of meetings is that every event has to be related to the parliamentary practice. So sharing experience with colleagues from parliaments in the EU is especially welcome. The time of power point presentations by representatives of international organisations about their functioning should be finally over!
According to the responsible work of elected parliamentarians, a target-oriented approach is necessary to overcome the main shortcomings they are still confronted with, such as the parliamentary examination of draft laws, mechanisms for implementation of legislation, the sufficient preparation for a new stage of EU integration, oversight capacity of the parliament, the culture of political dialogue and the communication of parliamentary work in general.
What is still lacking (not only in this area) is a systematic national follow up of regional events, especially the use of conclusions from fruitful exchanges and substantial recommendations for parliamentary business. The best practice was given by the Gender Task Force-organized Regional Women MPs Exchange with a strong national preparation and follow up via reports and workshops. By the way, exactly this model came out on top when it comes to guaranteeing a free debate!
Even if every single initiative and activity to deal with the parliaments is still welcome, the ongoing overlapping of activities has to be overcome. The main reason for this phenomenon is the common strategy and policy of different donors to be focused only on their own projects. But also a lack of identification of a regional coordination body, which should be the Sofia-based Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South East Europe, has to be recognized here.
Finally, there are more and more calls for an increased institutionalization of regional parliamentary cooperation at levels of parliamentary committees to have better and more efficient conditions for common initiatives or activities. With their
Petra Bläss-Rafajlovski is currently working in Tirana as expert for the Parliamentary Support Programme of the OSCE Presence in Albania Bläss-Rafajlovski was a Member of the German Bundestag for 12 year and its Vice President. She was a Senior Consultant to the Stability Pact for