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Global Parliament: It’s the Council’s turn to deal with it

, by Andreas Bummel

The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs has recently voted on recommendations to the Council of the European Union on the EU’s policy at the next session of the UN General Assembly. One of the recommendations that are scheduled to be passed by the plenary in June is that the EU should advocate the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. The ball is now in the court of the Council and Baroness Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs

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Following a small hiccup last year [1] , the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) fortunately has recollected itself and decided to revive the parliament’s longstanding support of the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA).

According to the document that was passed by AFET and that will be on the plenary’s agenda on 8 June 2011 [2], the European Parliament calls on the Council to advocate at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly “the establishment of a UNPA within the UN system in order to increase the democratic nature, the democratic accountability and the transparency of global governance and to allow for greater public participation in the activities of the UN, acknowledging that a UNPA would be complementary to existing bodies, including the Inter-Parliamentary Union.”

The document also elaborates on the EU in the UN system, global governance, peace, security, justice, development, human rights and climate change. All in all, the recommendations stretch over 58 paragraphs. The two that concern a UNPA are set apart as the “final recommendations”.

Indeed, the proposal of a UNPA has overarching importance. The new body has the potential to fundamentally change the way how governments and international governmental organizations broker and determine global policy. Today, parliaments and elected representatives are onlookers – at best. A UNPA, by contrast, is supposed to give them specific formal rights of information, participation and oversight, maybe even co-decision.

The role of the European Parliament in foreign policy

According to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has an advisory role only with regard to the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Council is the institution that decides on common positions, actions and strategies. However, Article 36 says, among other things, that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs - who chairs the Foreign Affairs Council - “shall ensure that the views of the European Parliament are duly taken into consideration.”

The request of the European Parliament that the Council should promote a UNPA at the UN General Assembly is remarkable as the Council didn’t consider the subject at all until now. Still, as mentioned before, the matter wasn’t pulled out of the hat. Beginning with 1994, the European Parliament has repeatedly brought it up even if governments never took notice.

Why this time is different

In addition to the European Parliament’s strengthend advisory role in foreign affairs, it can now also build upon notable public support as international polls have shown [3] . “Creating a new UN Parliament, made up of representatives directly elected by citizens, having powers equal to the current UN General Assembly”, for instance, was approved by 66 percent of respondents in Germany, 64 percent in Britain, 70 percent in Italy and 59 percent in Poland.

Even without the Council going into detailed deliberations on the subject or even delcaring it a common position, Baroness Ashton could mention the UNPA proposal in an intervention at the next session of the UN General Assembly. This is probably the least what the proponents in the European Parliament expect, considering that the UN has recently [4] given her the right to speak on behalf of the EU – and that the European Parliament is nothing less than the direct representation of the Union’s 500 million people.

Ideally, the Council, together with like-minded governments from outside the EU and in cooperation with interested parliaments and major civil society organizations, would launch deliberations on important questions such as the functions and powers of the assembly, its relationship to the UN’s main bodies and the entities of the UN system, the distribution of seats, how it is to be funded, and so on. The results could be consolidated into draft statutes which, in turn, could lay the ground for serious negotiations under the auspices of the UN.

If the High Representative and the Council fail to take action, they risk to lose the initiative. For example, the Parliament could decide to set up its own working group to draw up draft UNPA statutes.

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