The added value of the EU’s parliamentary diplomacy

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By Evangelia Polytarchi, Associate Contributor KEDISA

Diplomacy, as defined by Adam Watson, is a negotiation of political entities which acknowledge each other’s independence. In other words, diplomacy is associated with the resolution of political conflicts through communication and dialogue. However, what is considered to be a special characteristic of parliamentary diplomacy?
Parliamentary diplomacy is quite a vague notion. According to Rabi Ray, then speaker of the lower house of the Indian legislature, ‘parliamentary diplomacy may mean either that Parliamentarians play the role of diplomats, or that Parliamentary assemblies intervene actively in the formulation of foreign policy.’
National Parliaments’ as well as the European Parliament (EP)’s interest in the field of foreign policy has been recently given great attention in the discipline of International Relations. Since the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, European foreign policy issues can be discussed in the context of parliamentary committees or plenary sessions. That said, George Noulas adds to the engagement of Parliaments in foreign affairs the principle of diplomatic activities that represent one entity’s internal political scene.
The EP uses inter-parliamentary delegations to influence the views and attitudes of parliamentarians from third countries, regions, or international organizations. In this regard, the EP uses delegation activities to contribute to promoting in third countries the values on which the European Union is founded, namely, the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law (Articles 6 and 11(1), fifth indent, Treaty of the EU). The EP diplomacy, therefore, should be seen as rather a kind of collective representation of values, applied beyond territorial boundaries and national interests.

The historical background

In 2009, the Lisbon Treaty put heavy pressure on the EU diplomacy in terms of adapting its principles, rules and actions to a widened scope. It also resulted in the creation of the European External Action Service (EEAS) which constituted an unprecedented case in which a non-state actor has created its own foreign service composed of both a central administration in Brussels as well as external delegations abroad. This event has triggered investigations of the emerging EU diplomatic body by the Diplomatic System of the European Union (DSEU), as well as discussions regarding ensuing challenges and opportunities.
Challenges and opportunities created by the Lisbon Treaty, notably their connection with already existing European diplomatic services, have arisen. Many tensions have marked the setting up of the new EU diplomatic system, both on the national and on the European level. Among the major hurdles, are mentioned the training of staff and the building of a team-spirit and common identity.
The Lisbon Treaty has allowed an expansion of the European Parliament’s competences in foreign policy, especially along the lines of legislative, supervisory and budgetary powers by means of formal and informal agreements. Besides the political and administrative hurdles, the Lisbon Treaty also raises a number of legal questions concerning multiple bilateralism. Delegations to third countries and IOs needed to be created or revised.
Nevertheless, opportunities do exist in this enterprise, most important of which, the possibility of ensuring greater democratic legitimacy and accountability for the new diplomatic system. In addition, new possibilities exist in the area of information exchange and foreign policy communications that will strengthen EU diplomacy.

The EP powers in EU foreign policy

Although it has a restrictive authority over CFSP/CSDP issues, the EP intervenes in the EU’s external policies by playing the role of consultant in the Commission and the EEAS decision-making procedure. The committee structure of the EP, especially the role of the Foreign Affairs Committee must be seen as the ground where the governments address civil society problems. Given the EP’s veto power over international agreements, the High Representative pursues its consent on foreign policy affairs, such as partnership agreements with third countries.
However, asking for more intensive inter-institutional cooperation, MEPs often emphasize the need for consistency in the EU delegations. In form of news press release, they explain that the EU external missions’ legitimacy should be scrutinized by the EP, the only directly elected body by the European citizens.
On the institutional level, the EP delegations may come into a variety of forms, such as in joint parliamentary committees, in parliamentary committees, in other inter-parliamentary delegations, and in delegations to multilateral parliamentary assemblies.
These 41 parliamentary delegations, which are currently under operation, participate in parliamentary assemblies which consist of 12 to over 70 members. The delegations’ chairmen are elected by the Conference of Delegation Chairs. The latter, having a separate chairman, is responsible for the coordination of inter-parliamentary delegations and delegations to the joint parliamentary committees.

The EP delegation in Kosovo

The case of Kosovo attracts attention from both sides of the Atlantic, causing high levels of competitiveness between Europe and America. As Moravcsik illustrates, ‘the United States can offer crucial military guarantees and political backing while the European Union (EU) gradually assumes a more prominent role in dealing with what is ultimately a European problem.’ In the state of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, the European parliamentary negotiators have always encouraged the peaceful co-existence of Serbian minorities and the people of Kosovo.
During the1st inter-parliamentary meeting of the EP-Kosovo Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels, MEPs tackled a wide range of issues, such as insufficient education, the freedom of press, and the Serbian representation in the Kosovo Assembly. Referring to the last point made by the MEP Doris Pack and talking on behalf of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo as well as the UNMIK, Franklin De Vrieze said that Serbia’s decision for local elections was illegal and that this election could not have legal consequences.
In the end, the construction of a European system of diplomacy has remained an incremental process with inherent conceptual puzzles in need of solutions. Constant transformations should be included in the context of foreign policy making. The establishment of new foreign policy mechanisms has been demanding in relation to energy and time. The pressure should be put on the diplomacy field in terms of adapting new principles, rules and actions, but also of widening its scope.


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