European Parliament calls on EU Council to promote parliamentary participation in the UN

1. April 2010

The European Parliament has asked the EU Council to address stronger parliamentary involvement at the United Nations during the 65th UN General Assembly session that will start in September. A set of recommendations adopted by the Parliament on 25 March in Brussels includes a paragraph in which the Council is asked “to promote stronger participation by national and transnational parliaments in UN activities with the aim of strengthening the democratic nature of the United Nations, its programmes and its agencies and to support initiatives by civil society and parliaments to this end.“

UN rapporteur Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MEP
Image: European Parliament

The European Parliament’s UN rapporteur Alexander Graf Lamsdorff MEP, a German liberal, said in an interview that the Parliament “is not a legislator in the domain of foreign policy.” Still he hopes “that some of our recommendations are being incorporated in the Council resolutions.”

The recommendation to strengthen parliamentary participation in the UN caused mixed feelings among supporters of the international Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly. “Since 1994 the European Parliament has been supporting the establishment of a parliamentary body at the UN. It’s a missed opportunity that this resolution merely speaks about participation of national and transnational parliaments. Many feel that this is a wishy-washy and retrograde position,” said Andreas Bummel, the head of the Campaign’s Secretariat.

The European Parliament’s Commission on Foreign Affairs (AFET) previously had agreed to discard a supportive reference to a UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA). An amendment tabled by Jo Leinen MEP on behalf of the Socialist Group that reiterated the parliament’s long-standing support for a UNPA was replaced by a compromise without such a reference and not voted upon.

Reference to UNPA discarded in Commission

Jo Leinen MEP
Image: European Parliament

Rapporteur Mr Lambsdorff explained that the compromise was accepted by the Liberals, Greens, Conservatives and the Socialists alike. With reference to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s opposition to a UNPA he said that the compromise was “neither to mention the argument of the proponents nor of the opponents.” According to Lambsdorff, “there isn’t yet a common, unified position in the House.”

The coordinator of the Greens in the Commission, Ulrike Lunacek MEP from Austria, commented that “there are two options for better participation of parliaments in the UN, a UN Parliamentary Assembly as a new body or the further development and improvement of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.” In her opinion, the compromise “leaves the door open for both possibilities.”

Key MEPs and European Federalists reinforce support

Despite of the compromise in the Commission on Foreign Affairs, key MEPs have confirmed their support for a UNPA. Asked on his position, the Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs of the Conservative group, Elmar Brok MEP from Germany, said that he “supports the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly because more transparency and democracy is necessary, especially at the international level.”

UEF President Andrew Duff MEP
Image: European Parliament

The President of the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and liberal MEP from the United Kingdom, Andrew Duff, plans to push the issue. Said Duff: “I very much hope that Parliament will agree to include a statement of support for the establishment of the UNPA in its final resolution on the upcoming 65th session of the UN General Assembly. I and others will be tabling an amendment to this effect when the matter comes to plenary.” Added Mr Duff: “It would be a sad day if the European Parliament lacked the level of ambition necessary to project Europe's own, very special experience of trans-national democracy on to a world level. Europe should take the lead on democratic global governance.”

In a statement issued by the Young European Federalists (JEF-Europe), the supranational youth movement "laments the very regrettable decision made by the AFET committee of the European Parliament that decided not to endorse prior commitments and positions of the EP which were favourable to the idea of establishing a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).” The comment states that “JEF-Europe is in favour of introducing more parliamentary democracy in the UN system” and that “the EP as the world's most influential supranational and democratically elected body should be the frontrunner in supporting the idea of a world parliament, of which the UNPA can be a small but important step in the right direction.” JEF-Europe “therefore hopes that the European Parliament will reconsider its position and do its utmost to help bring about a democratic global governance.”

Lucio Levi, a Professor of Political Science and Comparative Politics at the University of Torino in Italy and member of the Federal Committee of the UEF, expressed his disappointment over the compromise in the AFET commission. “We are used to conceiving of the EP as the laboratory of international democracy, not only as a model, but also an engine for the dissemination of the experiment of a borderless democracy. But now the EP seems to have lost the chance to show the way leading to a democratic reform of the UN, in the same way followed by the EU at continental level,” stated Levi.

IPU and UNPA “complementary”

According to an assessment by experts at the Campaign for a UN Parliamentary Assembly, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the new body would be “complementary”. “In our view, strengthening the Inter-Parliamentary Union and establishing a UN Parliamentary Assembly doesn’t necessarily contradict each other,” Mr Bummel pointed out.

Top image: The EP plenary listens to a speech of Vaclav Havel, November 2009. Havel supports the idea of a world parliament. (European Parliament)