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The World of Parliaments
The Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments

"Bridging the democracy gap in international relations: A stronger role for parliaments"

Click on the photo to enlarge it From 7 to 9 September 2005, over 140 Speakers of parliament gathered in New York on the eve of the United Nations High-level Meeting of Heads of State and Government for the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments, which was presided by the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Senator Sergio Páez. The Speakers adopted a declaration reviewing of the action taken by parliaments since their first Conference was held in 2000, examining how they could provide more support for international cooperation and the United Nations, and helping to bridge the democracy gap in international relations.

At the inaugural ceremony of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments. What they said:

Senator Sergio Páez, IPU President
"This extraordinary meeting testifies to the interest in parliamentary diplomacy within representative institutions and to the increasing role of legislators in the international system…. The main objectives of the Conference are to air the views of the true representatives of popular sovereignty from all regions of the world, to take stock of parliamentary action in foreign affairs in the past five years, and to examine how we can provide more support for international cooperation and for the United Nations. Last but not least, we want to help bridge the democracy gap in decision-making in international relations."

Mr. Jean Ping, President of the United Nations General Assembly
"The IPU is attached to the objectives and principles of the United Nations. The theme of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments is particularly significant at a time when the General Assembly is engaged in difficult negotiations in order to agree on a document for our heads of State and Government which will hopefully garner the broadest consensus possible so as to adapt the United Nations to the multiple challenges of the twenty-first century".

Message from the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Mr. Dennis Hastert, delivered by United States Congressman David Dreier
"We have been working together on a new initiative through which the United States House of Representatives will offer assistance to strengthen parliaments in emerging democracies worldwide. Working with other parliaments is an important part of your work too. I applaud this Conference's central focus on how parliaments can contribute to democracy…. As parliamentarians, we are uniquely positioned to contribute to the advancement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law simply by representing the best interests of the voters that elected us."

Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
"Being here again may give... a sense of déjà vu, as once again we look to the World Summit for important decisions on the full range of issues before the United Nations. ...I thank you for your broad outlook, your awareness of the interconnected nature of today's problems, and your belief in multilateral solutions. Let us make sure that, should you come together again in another five years, we have made measurable progress in modernizing our institutions and in building a world that is freer, fairer and safer for all its inhabitants."



"If a government is afraid of a strong and fair parliament, it means that the country is in serious trouble"

Mrs. Nino Burdjanadze
Mrs. Nino Burdjanadze
Q.: Madam Speaker, what are your views on the Second Speakers' Conference?
Nino Burdjanadze :
This Speakers' Conference was very important and successful. I particularly appreciate the theme concerning democracy and the role of parliaments, because we should really strengthen the role of parliament and democratic institutions all over the world, in order to make them more fair, more democratic and more peaceful. Such meetings are useful because we have the possibility to discuss important issues and to share experiences. We can also have bilateral meetings and discuss important topics for our countries. The IPU should be more effective and more active. It should not only adopt declarations or discuss issues, even though this may be important, but also follow them up to ensure that all the decisions and principles which are and will be adopted in the framework of the IPU are implemented by parliaments and by the representatives of our countries.

Q.: Do you think that governments will let parliaments play such an important role?
N.B. :
It depends on the parliaments; it depends on the leadership and the members of parliaments. Perhaps for governments it is not very comfortable to have strong parliaments, because parliaments naturally should criticize governments. But it should be constructive criticism, which allows governments to avoid mistakes and to be more effective. Constructive criticism is very useful and if a government is afraid of a strong and fair parliament, it means that the country is in serious trouble. I hope parliaments will be stronger. It will help.

Q.: You have provided proof that a Speaker can be strong and can play a decisive role in the history of a country. Do you think that Speakers are today aware of the role that they can play in decisive moments?
N.B. :
If you are a Speaker of parliament, you should play the role necessary for your country. I hope that all people and all countries will have such Speakers in their parliaments. It is necessary if we want to build normal, democratic and prosperous countries.

Q.: Was it difficult for you?
N.B. :
Any work is difficult if you do it with heart and if you give your all to your job. But it is a pleasure when you have the feeling that you are doing the right thing for your people and your country.

Q.: Are parliaments gender sensitive, or is there still much more to do in order to have parity between men and women in politics?
N.B. :
We have a lot to do. There are some countries which have no women in parliament. I think we should create better conditions for women so that they can express their possibilities, because everybody knows the important role women can play in politics and in other fields.

Responsibilities of parliaments in international affairs

The Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments included a panel discussion on the role and responsibilities of parliaments in respect of the work of the United Nations. Panel moderator Juan Somavia, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization, opened the discussion by stating that the time had come for more robust checks and balances in the international sphere. As things stood, most governments were accountable to their parliaments nationally; internationally, governments were only accountable to themselves. "The job of parliaments, institutionally, is to bring global considerations to the local level", he said. The Speaker of the Swedish Riksdag, Mr. Björn von Sydow, agreed. The IPU should act as an early warning system to alert parliaments to what was going on the international scene.

Mr. Alexander Lambsdorff, a Member of the European Parliament, also saw a role for the IPU in communicating United Nations policies to the people. There was no doubt that the legislative component needed a more assertive place in the business of the United Nations. The European Parliament had mooted the idea of a parliamentary assembly for the United Nations. To put it into effect, two options were open: that of transforming the IPU into a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly under Article 22 of the United Nations Charter, or - preferably - using a reformed IPU. The Union had the necessary experience, and further bureaucracy should be avoided.

Mr. Lambsdoff and Mr. von Sydow both insisted that whatever solution was chosen, there should be an active role for the parliamentary opposition. People's interests could only be defended in the multilateral sphere if the uncomfortable presence of an effective opposition were part of the policy-making equation. Turning to development issues, Ms. Ann Veneman, the Executive Director of UNICEF, spoke of the power of lawmakers to effect critical change. Good laws meant the difference between the success and failure of development policy, and parliamentarians had the moral authority to change opinions, and were able to amplify the voice of the humanitarian agencies. The Speaker of the National Assembly of Mali, Mr. Ibrahim Boubakar Keita, cautioned about the continuing mistrust of parliament on the African continent. Increasingly, however, it was coming to be understood that many development objectives could not be achieved without parliament. For the first two years, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) was little more than a myth for the people of Africa. After a parliamentary forum for NEPAD had been set up, people had become much more involved, especially in the financing aspects. Speaking from the government side, Mr. Jan Eliasson of Sweden, the incoming President of the United Nations General Assembly, added that parliamentarians brought the hard realities of the world into the halls of ultilateralism. If the United Nations was to set the direction for practical international solidarity, it needed to take on new partners, and parliamentary pressure in many areas, particularly those on the social agenda, was highly appreciated and would continue to be sought in the future.

The Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms. Louise Fréchette, was invited to attend the meeting. She presented an evaluation of how gender equality and the empowerment of women were promoted through the work of the United Nations, emphasizing their central role in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Ms. Fréchette also addressed the question of women's representation in parliament, identifying some of the measures that led to concrete results, including quota systems, voluntary agreements, training programmes for women's leadership and the elimination of laws and practices preventing or restricting women's participation in the political process. Lastly, the Deputy Secretary- General commended the IPU - and particularly the IPU Coordinating Committee of Women Parliamentarians - for its work on gender equality and the empowerment of women, and called for greater cooperation between the IPU and the United Nations in the future.

High-level panel on parliaments' contribution to democracy

One of the highlights of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments was a high-level panel that met to assess how parliament exercises or should exercise its role as a key institution of democracy. This panel was ably moderated by the Speaker of the National Assembly of South Africa, Ms. Baleka Mbete. Other panel members included Ms. Nino Burjanadze, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia; Dr. Hajim al-Hassani, Speaker of the Transitional National Assembly of Iraq; Mr. Rodolfo Nin Novoa, President of the Senate and Vice President of Uruguay; Ms. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Member of the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia; Professor David Beetham, rapporteur of the IPU's panel on the Project on Parliaments' Contribution to Democracy; and Dr. James Paul, Executive Director of the Global Policy Forum, a United States-based think-tank.

Participants stressed the important role parliament plays in bridging the gap between the people and government. It can only play such a role if, inter alia, it effectively holds government to account, passes laws that are commensurate with the interests and aspirations of the people and practices democracy internally. Parliament's representative function thus came in for a lot of discussion. Parliamentary effectiveness and a streamlined system for remaining in close contact with and informing the electorate and the public in general would help to improve the negative public image that parliaments have in several countries. Several participants underscored the importance of involving all segments of society inthe work of parliament. It was noted in particular that women and youth should have a greater say than is currently the case.

In a true democracy, the voice of all should be heard

Participants also stressed the need for parliaments to contribute more vigorously to decision-making at the international level, especially in those areas where power has shifted beyond the individual State. In this way, they can help to bridge the current democracy deficit in international cooperation.

Strong parliaments are a bulwark against despotic dictatorship

In general, participants recognized democracy as an ongoing process. They nevertheless emphasized that while it had taken the more advanced democracies several decades to build strong parliaments that now stood as bulwarks against dictatorship, the emerging democracies needed to accelerate the pace of democratic reforms domestically.



Copyright © 2005 Inter-Parliamentary Union