Summit buries bold plans to transform the Inter-Parliamentary Union

29. July 2010

The third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament closed last week in Geneva with the adoption of a declaration on the need to secure global democratic accountability. Eventually, over 130 speakers of parliament gave their assent to a text that was characterized by Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of Switzerland’s leading newspapers, as being “unpretentious”.

While the declaration states that “today’s multilateral systems should allow for much greater consideration for the thoughts, feelings and aspirations of people everywhere whose voices go unheard” and “called for greater parliamentary involvement in international cooperation”, the speakers assembled in Geneva seemed to disagree on the route to take. Turning to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), convener of the world conference and the umbrella organization of national parliaments, they affirmed in unison that the IPU is “the international body best suited to build the relationship between parliaments and the United Nations”. According to reports, however, speakers of parliament primarily from Western countries took offence at what was described as “ambitions towards a world parliament”.

Abdurahim Abdi suggested a bold approach
Image: IPU

The Speaker of the East African Legislative Assembly, Abdurahim Abdi, for example had promoted the imposing vision that parliaments should be formally included into the decision-making at the United Nations. “For instance it can be made a requirement that every decision of the UN General Assembly or the UN Security Council is subjected to some form of a parliamentary process before it becomes binding. We can do this by strengthening the existing international parliamentary forums like the Inter-Parliamentary Union to co-determine with the UN General Assembly or Security Council the shape of world policies,” Mr Abdi stated.

Amendment softens declaration

The Emirates News Agency reported that an alliance of European and Arab Speakers succeeded to remove a passage from the declaration’s draft that was tabled at the conference that acknowledged the need to examine “all options” to strengthen the IPU, “including reforming its current Statutes and Rules, concluding an international convention on the IPU and entering into a new and significantly improved cooperation agreement with the United Nations.” Instead, the amended declaration merely included the softened statement that the Speakers welcomed “the discussion which has been started within the IPU in order to strengthen its functions, promote its efficiency and develop its cooperation with the United Nations and its institutions.”

The Speaker of the German parliament, Norbert Lammert, stated in a speech that “the IPU is neither a world parliament nor a subsidiary organization of the UN and we also do not want it to turn into one.” According to Mr. Lammert, the presidents of all parliaments of the EU member states supported the suggested amendment.

GulfNews reported that the Speaker of the Federal National Council of the United Arab Emirates, Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, played an instrumental role in rallying support for the amendment by voicing concern that - based on the draft text -, the IPU could be “converted into a UN government organisation that lacks independence, democratic accountability and transparency.”

New “parliamentary arm” for the UN proposed

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair called for a new "parliamentary arm" for the UN
Image: IPU

At the same time, however, Mr. Al Ghurair called “for establishing an international independent body representing peoples of the world to act as a parliamentary arm for the United Nations (UN) and hold any country - whatever big or small - accountable democratically if it flouts its international responsibilities as per principles of international law and legitimacy.” Emirates News Agency quoted Mr. Al Ghurair saying that he believes that “the new international accountability organisation should represent all peoples of the world and serve as a voice for principles of international justice. It's necessary for the UN to mull deeply creating such a parliamentary arm.” According to the report, Mr. Al Ghurair stressed that the new institution should not replace the IPU.

The Secretariat of the Campaign for the Establishment of a UN Parliamentary Assembly affirmed that “a global parliamentary body is needed that eventually participates in decision-making at the UN and other international institutions and that is able to hold these institutions and their executives accountable. Such a body would not replace or duplicate the IPU’s functions.”

Declaration of the 3rd World Conference of Speakers of Parliament

Top image: Plenary of the conference, by Inter-Parliamentary Union