Newsletter 23/2012 - From Brussels angle

INTERVIEW with Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament

We would welcome single, efficient forum that involves parliaments of all the countries of the region

Mr Schultz, how important is a reliable and accountable parliament for a country? And, how important is regional cooperation in terms of good neighbouring relations, stability, security and overall prosperity among South East European countries?

Parliament is the backbone of any democratic system. It is the institution through which citizens express their will. It passes legislation, approves the budget and taxation, oversees the government, ratifies treaties, holds major policy debates and hears people's grievances. Parliaments, as legislators, play central role in promoting and implementing reforms, and increasing the efficiency and transparency of governing structures.

We should also remember that sustainable democratic development does not end in successfully completed free and fair elections. Such elections are rather a beginning, a critical but nonetheless preliminary step on the road towards democratic maturity. Such maturity comes through long-term and comprehensive efforts to ensure sound implementation of lawmaking and oversight power.

Parliaments differ across the world, depending on history, tradition, and social diversity, although their basic role remains the same: representation, lawmaking, and oversight. They change just as a country and society change.

Modern democracy embraces change because it results from a reasoned political manner inspired by politicians listening to their electorate and developing well founded arguments, based on factual research and political vision. This in turn requires well organised parliamentary organisations which can support the elected representatives in their work. Transparency, accountability, mutual respect and a constitutional setting which allows a proper check and balance are indispensable for this process.

Among objectives of interparliamentary cooperation in South East Europe is to support the policies of the governments with a view to reinforcing the cooperation at the intergovernmental level. Such cooperation is crucial for building bridges among citizens and societies to ensure good neighbourly relations, security and prosperity.

The support for a government should go together with a scrutiny by a parliament. Oversight of the executive power is one of the most important roles of parliaments. The independence of the parliaments from the governments in the region is still to be further developed. We have well noted a progress in this regard but would wish to see even more balance between the two branches. The supervision of the EU integration process could be treated as a model for developing effective tools for the parliamentary control. I would like to encourage for exchange of best practices in this regard among the parliaments of the region.

In the context of promotion of democratic values and European standards in South East Europe, how would you assess the current state of play in parliamentary cooperation in this region?

As I said, good interparliamentary cooperation is important to ensure regional cooperation and stability. A lot has been achieved in this area since the 1990s. But there is no room for complacency. Democratic systems need to be consolidated further in some countries of the region and the exercise of cooperation among them needs to be repeated each year with the view of making them more and more efficient and meaningful.
We observe form Brussels numerous interparliamentary initiatives like the Cetinje Parliamentary Forum, the Conference of the Parliamentary Committees on European Integration (COSAP) or the Sofia Regional Secretariat for Parliamentary Cooperation in South East Europe. Some of these initiatives are more and other less successful. We would very much welcome one forum instead, which meets regularly, is efficient and actively involves parliaments of all the countries of the region.

So far, many efforts have been invested in increasing the importance of the South East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) Parliamentary Dimension that are meant to gradually result in the establishment of a parliamentary assembly. In your view, what could be the best formula for the success of the future South East European parliamentary institution?

Firstly, I would like to remind that all the countries of the region should join the EU and have the European Parliament as their agora for debates, also about the region. It will happen soon with Croatia, but might take some time for the other countries.

The South-East European Cooperation Process’s Parliamentary Dimension is a network aimed at achieving political and economic stability in this part of Europe, but as I have just mentioned - not the only one. I definitely support continuation of that dialogue, but it is up to the countries of the region to decide what form it should have and whether they can afford also financially multiple forms of cooperation. One should try to combine all existing initiatives into one, regular mechanism for debates. I would welcome plans to establish one day the Parliamentary Assembly provided that it fulfils these criteria and does not create a bureaucratic burden neither for the parliaments concerned nor for the EU. Details should be left to the national parliaments.

I would like to remind that already now we have a quite developed system of consultations between the EP and the parliaments of the region. The present inter-parliamentary relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo* have an annual cycle and are based on voluntary decisions. Relations with Albania, Croatia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro have been upgraded following the entry into force of the relevant Stabilisation and Association Agreements. As a result, MEPs and MPs from these four countries meet twice a year each, in separate Parliamentary Committees. Each of these meetings lasts for two days. It is really a wide platform for bilateral discussions with the EP.

Members of the pre-accession country parliaments also participate in the multilateral programmes by the EP's Directorate for Democracy Support, where they have the possibility to exchange views and experiences with the MEPs, representatives of the European Commission and their counterparts from the region.

As a priority defined by the Strategy and Work Programme 2011-213, the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC),  is closely following the process of institutionalization of the parliamentary cooperation in South East Europe, aiming to foster systematic cooperation among the parliaments from the region. Where do you see the role of the RCC in terms of further advancement of this process?

The RCC could map all the existing forms of the parliamentary cooperation among parliaments of the region together with different ways of debating with the EP. I have mentioned earlier examples of that cooperation. That could be followed by a proposal of how to combine them or make compatible with each other. Such a proposal could be discussed with the parliaments involved. Decisions should then be taken on what is the best way of cooperating for the future, keeping in mind efficiency of such a project.

In broad political terms, the RCC should serve as a key platform to coordinate and ensure the continuous and vigorous region-wide political support to the European integration - focusing on monitoring the fields, in which efforts are needed, ranging from rule of law, to economic and social revitalisation and ensuring respect for fundamental rights such as media freedom. In the European Parliament, we are a steadfast supporter to the region's European aspiration and we want to see our South East partners swiftly move towards this goal. We also understand that tangible progress must be demonstrated to the region's citizens in terms of ensuring their commitment and support to this project. I believe that parliamentary bodies have a special role and responsibility to link up between the citizens and the authorities. In this respect, I see a big role of the RCC in helping to streamline various individual efforts being taken, in order to enhance political impact of the ongoing political processes.

Martin Schulz has been President of the European Parliament since January 2012. Since 1994, Martin Schulz is a Member of the European Parliament and has served in a number of committees, staring with the sub-committee on Human Rights and then the Committee on Civil Liberties and Home Affairs. He led the Social Democratic Party (SPD) MEPs from 2000 and was subsequently elected Vice-Chair of the Socialist MEPs. After high school, Schulz decided to try to make a living out of his passion for books and he did an apprenticeship as a bookseller. In 1982, he opened his own bookstore in Würselen, Germany which he successfully ran for 12 years. In 1986, he was elected as the youngest mayor of North Rhine-Westphalia, a post he held for 11 years.


 * This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.



Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament (Photo: )

Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament (Photo: )