Stanley's blog

We live in a new austerity world and a much more critical look must be taken of all public expenditure. It is important that the European Parliament has regular contact with third country parliaments. However, these contacts should be effective and cost-effective.

15 MEPs, representing the parliament’s political groups and a number of Member States, including, Germany, Poland, , France, Spain, Sweden, and Italy, attended in July a two-day ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly (JPA) meeting in idyllic Seychelles.

The agenda included the fight against piracy and taking part in a fisheries workshop, peace and security and the Chagos Refugees Group. How does the event justify such a large participation? There are similar Delegations to the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly and the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly.

Then we come to the Interparliamentary Delegations with non-European countries: Mexico; Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia; US; Canada; Central America Andean Community; Mercosur; Japan; China; India; Afghanistan; South Asia; Southeast Asia, ASEAN; Korean Peninsula; Australia and New Zealand; South Africa; Pan-African Parliament and NATO.

And finally come the Delegations with European countries: Croatia; FYROM; Turkey; Russia; Ukraine; Moldova; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia; Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, European Economic Area (EEA).

What is the purpose of these delegations? The European Parliament Conferences of Presidents decided in September 2006 the following principles:

Delegations shall maintain and develop Parliament’s international contacts. Accordingly, delegation activities shall, on the one hand, be aimed at maintaining and enhancing contacts with parliaments of States that are traditionally partners of the European Union and, on the other hand, 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…”

But the most important objective should be to promote mutual understanding, without which the EU-third country relationships will not seriously progress. Promoting many EU values should be carried out subtly and not by preaching. Thus the single objective should be to promote mutual understanding, including enhancing relations with other parliaments.

The key questions are, however:
Are the Delegations effective?
Are the Delegations cost-effective?

The effectiveness of the Delegations depends a lot on their leadership and composition. The trouble is that members are not necessarily selected because of their expertise or their ability to speak the relevant language. Much also depends on the quality and commitment of the Delegation leaders.

Some delegations make a useful contribution but few delegations appear to be cost-effective and there is no systematic review and audit of them. Nor is there effective interaction with the relevant Committees and the plenary sessions.

Parliament should examine, in particular, the following questions:

• To which countries should there be delegations?
• Could there be more grouping of some delegations eg an African ASEAN Delegation and an African Delegation?
• What is the appropriate size of the delegations?
• How do you ensure that there is sufficient experience of the third country in the delegation?
• Can any good or bad lessons be learned from the experience of national parliaments?
• What should be the reporting system by the delegation so that the voters know how their money is being spent?
• How best should the delegations interact with the relevant committees and the plenary itself?

As said in the opening paragraph, it is important that the European Parliament has regular contact with third country parliaments.

SC 07.09.10

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  1. An interesting and timely question, Stanley.
    Cost effectiveness of the external aspects of European democracy raises other questions. One is the EP offices abroad. Perhaps you can confirm what I seem to remember. I asked this question of the London EP office in the 1960s or 1970s. The EP began to set up its separate external office representations in the Gaullist period when the Commission was under a great deal of pressure by nationalists to shut up. It was not allowed to speak about French cheeses. The CAP with its wine lakes was part of Gaullist back-room ‘package deals’. Hardly democratic. The Commission’s role was confined to innocuous ‘facts’ that were not offensive to the Grand Charles.

    The Parliament decided that the democratic voice of Europeans was needed as the Commission was gagged. It had some budgetary flexibility to do so, even while the Commission was under an ultimate threat to its existence. It is this flexible or independent budgetary power — that was once highly useful for democracy –that is now getting quite out of hand.

    Offices of the EP in capitals etc were intended as a temporary measure. Other non-European States don’t have separate parliamentary representations abroad, e.g. Congress or the Canadian Parliament.

    For de Gaulle, the problem was that the Commission consisted of some free, honest, normal people and not politicians who could be controlled by party machines. (The Treaties says Commissioners should be ‘independent’; supranational means they do not take instructions from governments, political parties or any other organizations). They had a tendency to speak their mind — as they should — for normal non-political people who comprise 98 per cent of the population.

    Today the question must be raised ‘Is the Commission representative of all the European people — or is it just a collection of party politicians?’ The party politicians (again making a secret package deal inside the Council) have unilaterally decided that ALL members of the Commission should be party members — quite in contradiction to Community Law.

    I hope that you have opened up a wide debate about budgets and real European supranational democracy and how the citizens should be in control.

  2. Hi stanley,

    Excellent post. Given the level of spend of the parliament on these initiatives you rightly cite the need for some sort of evaluation metrics to judge their cost effectiveness. This is common in the private sector for conference trips etc.

    If you look costs of the parliament as a whole, its defense due to its status as a “voice of the people” is seriously undermined by citizens lack of interest, knowledge and engagement with it. Thus it needs to be evaluated in terms of its contribution to the legislation process. In order to justify its increasing costs (a previous post of yours touched on these) this contribution would have to be significant.


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