Technical cooperation update
The following is a rundown of the Union's recent work to strengthen parliamentary capacities worldwide.
Assisting the Albanian Parliament in dealing with European Integration.
On 25 February 2004, the IPU and the United Nations Development Programme organised a seminar in Tirana for Albanian Members of Parliament on European integration issues. This seminar offered participants the opportunity to gain a better insight into how other parliaments have dealt with European integration in the context of their traditional law-making, oversight and representational functions. Resource persons from Hungary and Romania shared their experiences with their Albanian counterparts. The seminar was also attended by senior officials from the Albanian government. This seminar is being followed up with visits to the Parliaments of Hungary and Belgium.
Strengthening the international relations function of the Parliament of Timor Leste.
On 18 December 2003, the IPU in cooperation with UNDP organised a seminar in Dili on parliamentary diplomacy. Members of Parliament received detailed information on parliaments' involvement in international affairs. Resource persons from Australia and Brazil were in attendance. The seminar was a follow-up to a consultancy organised by the IPU in November-December 2003 to enhance the knowledge of MPs and parliamentary staff in the area of international relations and protocol. Activities planned in the near future include working with the caucus of women MPs to ensure that women MPs make a meaningful contribution to parliamentary processes.
Study Visit for Members of the Assembly of Kosovo.
In December 2003, Members of Parliament as well as secretariat staff from Kosovo paid a four-day working visit to the Parliament of Belgium and the European Parliament in Brussels. The visit familiarized them with the overall functioning of these parliaments with a specific focus on parliamentary services including the library, archives, documentation and information technology. The study visit was helpful in establishing a practical knowledge base for introducing an electronic document management system in the Kosovo Assembly in 2004.
Strengthening Zambian MPs' capacity to participate in international co-operation.
The IPU, alongside the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the SADC Parliamentary Forum, provided expert inputs and participated in a workshop for Members of Parliaments serving on international organisations, held in Lusaka on 28 and 29 February. This workshop was intended to build the capacity of Zambian members of parliament designated to represent Zambia at the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) which was subsequently inaugurated in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia in mid March 2004. The workshop also sensitised the other members of parliament who represent Zambia in inter-parliamentary organisations, on the role and work of, as well as challenges facing, these institutions.
Updating the IPU database of experts.
With the invaluable assistance of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliaments, the IPU is currently updating its roster of experts. Persons with expertise and experience in the functioning of parliaments are encouraged to send to the Technical Co-operation Programme a copy of their CV together with an Expert Data Form which they can download here: http://www.ipu.org/strct-e/experts.htm
Inauguration of Pan African Parliament
The Pan-African Parliament was inaugurated in Addis Ababa in mid March. It is one of the organs of the African Union of which it will ultimately be the legislative arm. In the words of the Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré, members of the Parliament are called upon to craft the political road map of the continent. It comprises MPs from the African Union's 53 member states. At the inaugural session, the MPs elected Mrs Gertrude Mongella from Tanzania, as their speaker. In July, last year, speaking in Cape Town (South Africa), the IPU President, Senator Sergio Páez, pledged IPU support for the creation of the Pan-African Parliament. "Representative institutions should drive and manage globalisation in order to make it more transparent and democratic and therefore more consonant with the interests of the vast majority of the world’s population. In the African context -declared President Páez- this means building a Pan-African Parliament that can, in time, play a legislative and oversight role vis-à-vis the African Union."
Expansion of the European Union|
The challenges of the new parliaments
National parliaments provide a direct and visible link between the European Union and its citizens and are currently involved in European decision-making in various different ways. Among their many functions they participate in the national EU decision-making processes where they are responsible for parliamentary scrutiny of government policy at a European level, not to mention EU treaties which require approval by the national parliaments of each Member state before entering into force.
The European Union will expand from 15 to 25 Member states on 1 May this year. To find out how this will affect national parliaments of the 10 new members we have asked the 10 parliaments what do they see as the challenges to their parliaments. In this issue, we start publishing their responses (follow up in the next issues).
"The Czech Parliament set up a new Committee for European Integration"
M. Milan Ekert, Head of the Czech IPU Group, explains that “after the ratification of the association agreement between Czech Republic and European Union and after the elections in 1998 the Czech Parliament set up a new Committee for European Integration. This committee has played the role of supervisor of the accession negotiations and the process of the adjustment of the Czech legal system to the aquis communitaire”. After the successful referendum this whole process will lead to the biggest enlargement of the European Union in its history. “First of all it will be a big change in the way we work. The Czech Parliament, as well as the other institutions, will have to improve the decision-making process and create an effective system of communication with European institutions, including the European Parliament. The European Union is understood by our citizens as a major gateway towards peace, prosperity, co-operation and safety. It is also an opportunity to exploit knowledge and potential”.
"The Estonian Parliament formed a new European Affairs Committee"
"After the 2003 elections, the Riigikogu (Estonian Parliament) formed new European Affairs Committee, its tasks being to draft an analysis of the impact of accession and prepare the necessary reforms for the Riigikogu to take part in the EU decision-making process", explained Ms. Annika Milt, Secretary of the Estonian IPU Group. It was formed under an amendment to the Rules of Procedure Act of the Riigikogu and will come into force before accession (the Act was adopted on February 11). The ratification of the accession Treaty in the Riigikogu took place on 21 January 2004.
The main idea behind the amendments is the need to involve both the EU Affairs Committee and the specialized standing committees in our internal co-ordination process. We studied various member States’ solutions. Every State is unique; the challenge is not to copy any given system or model, but to take the parts that are useful and appropriate for us and integrate them into our domestic context.
"When the European Commission presents a bill, it is delivered by the Government to the Riigikogu. The Riigikogu Bureau forwards the draft to the European Affairs Committee and to the relevant standing committee. The latter discusses the draft, evaluates its relevance to the Parliament and submits a reasoned position to the EU Affairs Committee. The EUAC gives its position to the Government, based on the opinion of the standing committee. The relevant minister appears before the EUAC before the text is discussed and decided upon in the Council", added the Secretary of the IPU Estonian Group.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has the same co-coordinating role within the context of CFSP. The nature of mandates might be described as "politically binding". The parliament gives its opinion. A distinction should be made in the context of important policy papers such as white or green papers and the Financial Framework. In this respect one might see a parallel process in the IGC and the way it has been treated by our parliament.
At the beginning of the IGC during the Italian Presidency, our Government presented a white paper containing positions on main issues to be discussed. The Riigikogu discussed this document under the co-ordination of the European Affairs Committee. The Foreign Affairs Committee and Constitutional Affairs Committee discussed the paper and gave their positions, the Riigikogu had a plenary discussion after which the groups gave their positions. All the positions were collated by the European Affairs Committee and following a debate the package was presented to the Government. The Committee discussed the updated positions before the Brussels Summit and presented its positions to the Government.
"A concise policy paper on Estonia’s EU policy for 2004-2006 is being prepared and will be discussed in the Government and the Parliament in spring 2004. It is expected to be approved before 1 May 2004", concluded Mrs. Milt.